By Tanvi Sharma
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has recently come into light as Manipur has made an advance in its case against Irom Sharmila, who has been on an indefinite hunger strike since past 13 years. Interestingly, she has been labelled ‘anti-Indian’ and a ‘Maoist’ in the past. As a Manipur court finds prima facie evidence of ‘an attempt to commit suicide’ against her, we must ponder over the AFSPA, its necessity and its relevance in a democratic nation like ours. We cannot afford to neglect the big question that continues to echo from the valley of Kashmir and from the northeast.
The AFSPA is a law granting special powers to the armed forces in certain “disturbed areas” in order to maintain peace and stabilization. However, in the regions of its enforcement, arbitrary killings, rapes, enforced disappearances and inhuman treatment have become commonplace. The act is highly repressive and is quite far from a stabilizing force. The plight of innocent civilians is brushed aside because of a larger scheme of repression followed by the state. The act allows any officer of the ‘armed forces’ to fire upon civilians, to search any premises without warrant and to detain any person on the grounds of suspicion without taking into account a citizen’s human rights. Moreover, no judicial action can be taken against the armed personnel in these so called ‘disturbed areas’.
The act violates basic human rights and is a clear epitome of putting an unprecedented amount of power in a few hands leading to its blatant misuse. In 2004, a Manipuri lady was taken into custody by the armed forces and was soon found dead. It was later reported that she was shot through her genitalia, because she was trying to escape. This incident clearly indicates the brutality of the law and the kind of suppression that innocent civilians face in these areas at the hands of the armed forces and the state machinery. Such a ‘draconian’ law does not deserve a State endorsement. The AFSPA, in reality, is nothing more than a weapon of subjugation. This act is responsible for alienating the people and triggering more disruption of peace instead of stabilizing the ‘disturbed areas’.
Unlimited military intervention in civilian life and blind military powers in these ‘disturbed areas’ have actually deconstructed the image of the armed forces. AFSPA not only violates the essence of life, it also violates the Indian Constitution and poses a threat to the world’s largest democracy. The need of the hour is to end this decade long undemocratic and unilateral use of force by the state with almost no accountability attached. Repealing such a horrendous act seems to be the right thing to do at this juncture. However, if not repeal, at least the act should be studied more carefully and should be introduced in a revised and responsible manner so that it does not disrupt the lives of innocent civilians. The decision on AFSPA must not be taken in haste.
13 long years of protest and resistance against AFSPA while being forcibly nose fed on a solution of nutrients does not make Irom Sharmila ‘anti-Indian’. Sharmila is an activist, not a criminal and her cause is just. ‘Reconstruction’ of AFSPA and the Indian Army is required at this crucial juncture. The State must realise this, even if belatedly.
Tanvi firmly believes in the power of words over weapons. She is here to change the way people look at things. An avid reader, a closet singer and an inveterate foodie who can live her entire life on the Internet.