AFSPA: Rhetoric and reality

The draconian law should be viewed in the overall context of human rights

It is yet another case of doublespeak and double standards. Prime Minister’s inaugural address at the chief ministers, conference on internal security and the J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah’s rhetoric on the occasion was a classic example of politicking on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), an issue which is a question of life and death for the suffering people of Jammu and Kashmir and has been reduced to a subject of an academic debate for the rulers in New Delhi and Srinagar. While he remained silent on the issue of the revocation of AFSPA, Dr. Manmohan Singh claimed that the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir has shown “significant improvement as militant violence parameters of last year were lowest since the upsurge of militancy more than twenty years ago”.

Taking credit for the improved situation in J&K the Prime Minister disclosed that there was a decline in the militant violence in the state by one third in 2012 as compared to the previous year. If that is so then why is it that New Delhi has neither taken any steps to proportionally reduce the level of army deployment in the civilian areas of the state and why there is so much resistance from the ruling establishment even to the suggestion for even the partial removal AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir. Such an attitude on the part of New Delhi betrays a mindset that does not trust the people of Kashmir and which believes in a policy of repression to deal even with the law and order situation in the State. If the AFSPA has not been invoked in other states and areas of the country where there is greater threat from militant groups of different hues and belonging to different faiths and where the law and order situation is much worse then why is it that New Delhi is intransigently opposing even the demand for partial removal, and not total revocation, of this draconian law from peaceful areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

Omar Abdullah’s approach on the question of AFSPA is more rhetorical than real. For him it is a matter of political expediency and not that of faith in citizens human and democratic rights. He finds himself helpless even to assert his authority and powers for revoking the draconian law which has been one of the major instruments of repression and human rights abuses in the state in the hands of the security establishment. It is difficult for New Delhi to ignore the opinion of other non-Congress ruled states on the question of internal security. New Delhi has so far failed to set up the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre to meet the threat from terrorist groups due to the opposition from most of the states. But in the case of J&K the chief minister, despite the state enjoying greater degree of autonomy, has failed to get even partial removal of AFSPA from few peaceful areas of the State. Nothing prevents him from repealing the J&K Disturbed Areas Act under which all the districts in the state, except Leh and Kargil, have been declared as disturbed areas. The AFSPA can be made applicable only in those areas which have been declared disturbed by the State government itself. The partial removal of AFSPA from few areas, where it was practically not in force is not going to make any difference on the ground as for as the human rights abuses are concerned. This black law, which violates all canons of democracy and even violates in spirit the Constitution of India, should have no place in any democratic and civilized state and must go lock, stock and barrel. Even the Working Group headed by M.A.Ansari, presently Vice President of India, had recommended the repeal of AFSPA and other draconian laws in 2007 when the security situation, on government’s own admission, was much worse and level of militancy much higher.

The issue of AFSPA is not an issue of rhetoric or that of scoring points in a debate. It is a question which concerns the basic rights of the citizens, their freedom, their existence as human beings, their dignity and honour. It should be viewed in the overall context of human rights of the citizens. Then AFSPA is not the only black law which infringes upon the basic rights of he citizens and which has been an instrument of repression and human rights abuses. There are other black laws like the Public Safety Act which have been blatantly misused to curb the citizens freedom and basic rights. These are the state laws which can be revoked by the State government without looking to the Centre for a nod. What has been preventing Omar Abdullah from revoking these draconian laws which have been misused by his own government to detain people including minors for years together without any trial or to resort to other grave human rights abuses ? Why his government has failed so far to hold independent probe into all such cases of human rights abuses like killings, rapes, destruction of property, disappearance of thousands of people, prolonged incarceration of political activists, curbs on their movements and other such atrocities?