AFSPA and the problems thereof

The struggle of man against power

is the struggle of memory against forgetting – Miland Kundera
Throughout the course of human civilization the world has witnessed various forms of struggle; some for liberation, some for control over resources or protection of cultures. One such ongoing movement has become a reality in Kashmir.

Kashmir is described as paradise on earth. But the paradise has witnessed decades of violence that has not only resulted in large scale destruction but petrified the psyche of its population.  With the onset of armed conflict in 1989, Kashmir along with some areas of Rajouri and Poonch came under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in July 1990. The areas mentioned were earlier declared as ‘disturbed’.  AFSPA was originally passed by parliament on September 11, 1958 in disturbed areas of North East states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura which was then north eastern frontier

A disturbed area is defined as an area having “activities involving terrorist acts directed towards overawing the government, striking terror in the people or any section of the people, questioning or disrupting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, or causing insult to the Indian national flag, the Indian national anthem and the constitution of India; etc”. Under the provision of AFSPA, in a disturbed area, an officer of the armed forces has powers:

1) Fire upon and even causing death
2) To arrest without a warrant
3) To enter and search any premise

The most hitting clause of AFSPA is that it gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the law. Those blinded by power have become both the prosecutors and petitioners.

AFSPA was withdrawn from some constituencies’ of Manipur in 2004 due to the persistent efforts of Irom Sharmila but it still prevails in Jammu and Kashmir. Though in Kashmir voices are being raised against this Act, with even the chief minister trying to muster support for its revocation. Kashmiris have yet to see the back of this draconian act.

To get an inner perspective on how this Act affected the Kashmiris especially youth, I conducted several In-depth interviews. The purpose was to explore the views of youth regarding social justice denied under this Act (AFSPA). The youth of Kashmir think that as the Act was implemented to tackle militancy in the valley it did decrease the number of militants but gave way to other grave human right problems like disappearance, custodial killings and fake encounters. These atrocities have taken the valley backward because of huge human loss. ASPA not only disturbs personal life of Kashmiris but also affects the social fabric.

The youth in Kashmir feels depressed, as this Act restricts mobility, heightens sense of insecurity and subjects those to humiliation at every corner of their own state where they are expected to produce document to prove their identity. While interviewing college going students, a common theme in their narration was “why should we show identity cards to the person who is from some other state?”

The act not only snatched the right to speech from the people of Kashmir but harnesses hatred against others. When they compare themselves with people living in other states who are ‘free’ and enjoy all other privileges which they feel they are denied. It is this sense of relative deprivation that marginalizes the Kashmiri youth from the rest of the country.
Many youths interviewed were of the opinion that paradise is ‘bleeding’ and they mainly attribute it to the misuse of AFSPA. They have first hand experience of people being brutally killed, murdered on roads, and a disturbed normal life. Fake encounters became common phenomenon along with disappearance. People were subjected to enforced disappearance, because of this Act.

 Though the Act requires the arrested persons be brought before district magistrate within 24 hrs, but it has never happened in Jammu and Kashmir. It is blatant misuse of human as well as legal rights. The Act hardly distinguishes between a perpetrator and an innocent person. The records reveal that the trailed people were innocent Kashmiris youngsters. This frustrating situation has given rise to the recent agitations in the form of stone pelting in Kashmir.
People in Kashmir cannot move out without an identity card. AFSPA has dragged joy and sense of freedom from Kashmir by alienating people from rest of India by giving them the sense of being separate from India. When people are not allowed to move freely in their own land they feel alienated. Mobility is the basic right of an individual and deprivation of this basic right in normal conditions is violation of human right.

The daily life of Kashmiris is full of experiences like harassment by forces, witnessing injustice, unnecessary arrests and verbal abuse but the most dreadful experience is to see the people being killed and feeling helpless along with the threat of their own life. They can only witness such horrendous acts but cannot raise voices against it. They live under the threat of as, “yesterday were his turn; today will be mine and tomorrow some other.”

Some in Kashmir have stopped using the traditional pheran in remote areas of state considering that it might create suspicion among armed forces. People are hopeless that the state government cannot enforce its will on the revocation of AFSPA.

When the allied laws of AFSPA including Public Safety Act (PSA) are implemented on youngsters, their personal life, education and social life all get affected. The people trailed under this act cannot get opportunities in jobs and other field of competencies. Youth under this act have been beaten but no trials or Inquiries have been made. According to them it is a criminal act which deprived them of their rights and freedoms.

“They provide us the atmosphere to become violent and aggressive. The act has been implemented on innocent people of Kashmir, who have been put in different jails and their relatives are not informed about them. Hence their whereabouts could not be ascertained and in many cases they went completely missing. This is destroying the future of Kashmir as a whole,” echoed most youngsters.

Such outburst will definitely result in hampering the development of the state. The people of Kashmir feel that there is no one to hear them as this act has made armed force the ultimate authority. There is no human right organization in the state that can have a vigil over them.

There is an urgent need for the revocation of the act (AFSPA) as the special powers given to the armed forces generates a sense of insecurity among Kashmiris. The increasing alienation of Kashmiris with both the armed forces and the rest of the Indian Territory have created a viscous situation. Caught in this pathetic setup the youth finds itself marginalized. “A life not by choice but of chance” is the narrative of one of the youth and it sums up the state of mind of the young generation of Kashmiris exposed to the uncertainties of their society.

Today every Kashmiris feels that they have been kept at a nuzzle of the gun. They have been deprived of their basic human rights. If a person survives from armed force trials another suffering is waiting outside, the “stigma” of being trialed under this act. It is a lifelong label which alienates people from their society and friend circle. Even their own society treats them as alienated from the society.

 The Act has become an object of hate and has created a climate of impunity and abuse that has enabled police, paramilitary forces and military to commit grave Human rights Violations. As a result the act has aggravated the crisis which was already prevailing in Kashmir from decades. The purpose of the act was to reduce the level of terrorist activities in the state but the act has lost its real motive. It has become a burden for every Kashmiri.

The unique findings of the study were that youth need their security. According to them they do not have problem with the law if it is implemented properly and not used indiscriminately. It seems that currently there is no difference from the fear of the gun, previously in the hands of militants and now in the hands of armed force. They feel themselves much exploited in the hands of armed forces than by other agencies. Years ago gun was the order of the day but the youngsters in Kashmir don’t want to repeat the same mistake again.

The author is a scholar at AMU and can be mailed at Seherharoon16@gmail.com