Monday, 17 March 2014

AFSPA 1958: Law of justice or law to legitimise lawlessness?

Irom Chanu Sharmila celebrated her 41st birthday on Friday 14 March, like any of her past birthdays, with no positive change on the political front to repeal the AFSPA from Manipur.

Miles away in Chennai, as an act of tribute to the ‘Iron Lady’ of Manipur, Ojas Suniti Vinay performed her one act play titled ‘Le Mashale’ for a mix crowd of PG students, Researchers, Professors and others of the Madras University including I. The solo act depicts the real life events of Irom Sharmila with a brief history on Manipur and how it was forcefully merged into India.

Ojas Suniti Vinay

Ojas S V performing her one act play 'Le Mashale' at Madras University.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) remains intact very much until today in Manipur, despite Irom Sharmila’s long indefinite fast since 2000. The fast was triggered by the act of ‘shooting spree’ carried out by the 8th Assam Rifles at the Malom bus stop which killed 10 innocent people on spot. It is famously known as the Malom massacre.

The Central Government’s least caring attitude to Northeastern states’ issue remains very much constant on the issue of AFSPA as well, except during interval interests shown by China towards Arunachal Pradesh. The main Media is more or less the same. It took mere months, oh just weeks for Anna Hazare to get more attention to his “fast against corruption” than the 13 years long fast of Sharmila.

Though there are speculations and debates on whether it is the right move to fast indefinitely until the government gives in to her demand, her move can with no doubt be seen as a woman who sacrifices the single most valuable thing, life, to bring justice and better law in the land.

If a Draconian law like the AFSPA 1958 is imposed in the state, giving the armed forces the right to shoot and kill on spot on the basis of mere suspicion without any proof does it not violate the primary right of an individual to life?

Every individual innocent or under suspicion (until proven guilty by court of law) has a right to life and livelihood. The situation changes when the concern place involved is declared “disturbed” by the government. There is no yardstick to measure ‘disturbed’. The term “disturbed” itself, is an ambiguous word and the cost of this ambiguity is paid by lives of innocent people.

The justice Jeevan Reddy Commission of 2005 was the single, sensible democratic move made by the government of india to tackle AFSPA in Manipur. The committee was to review the Act and recommend the government on whether to

(a) to amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of human rights; or

(b) to replace the Act by a more humane Act.

On June 6, 2005 the committee submitted the 147-page report and recommended that, “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed.” However, Government refused to accept the recommendations. The then Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee had rejected the withdrawal or significant dilution of the Act on the grounds that “it is not possible for the armed forces to function” in “disturbed areas” without such powers.

The Commission also noted that: “Though the Act gives sweeping powers to security forces even to the extent of killing a suspect with protection against prosecution, it does not provide any protection to the citizens against its possible misuse.” In plain words, a citizen does not have the protection of law to prove he is innocent and the armed personnel has the full power to shoot anyone.

The army personnel acting in supremacy is an all too common sight in Manipur.

The security forces can stop a person anytime anywhere to check and ask questions. This allows them to detain anyone on the ground of being suspicious, even without valid proof.

Road side checking and frisking in progress.

Identity checks through ID card or Driving license.

A security's force's Gypsy is being filled with petro while common citizen wait in line.

So far, through the exercise of such power, the security forces are able to capture insurgency members who are on errand ‘over-ground’, with demand letters or illegal ammunitions etc.

However, endless checks and unnecessary probing and questions, sometimes simply detaining youth without any justified reason has become a huge annoyance to the general public. Many youth, especially the male, have claimed that security forces wrongly detained them many times asking unnecessary questions, extorted money or punished them in publicly humiliating way on the excuse of not following traffic rules or not carrying necessary documents.

 The practice has left many people traumatized both physically and mentally.

Though bigger cases like rape and deaths are reported (while some are not even reported), everyday cases involving individual’s right violations, like frisking and detainments are considered ‘normal’ even acceptable.

The other common practice is the Combing operation. In this case, the army surrounds a particular area and the place remains on a lockdown, technically. All males above a certain age within that area are rounded and interrogated, basically, on their identity. Any person without a solid identification are detained and questioned further.

It is therefore advisable to carry identity cards or proofs always.

Since 1980, Armed Forces Special Power Act has existed in Manipur. It lived alongside us, and in some way or the other, we have come to accept it. However, when we look at it objectively, the underlying issues of human rights violation and individual’s privacy violation are endless.

Though officials claim it is impossible to remove the act due to security reasons in the conflicted state, the act has led to death and disappearance of many innocent citizens, fake encounters, alongside cases of rape and molestation by the ‘uniform’ men. ( Manorama rape case)

The unrestrained power given to the security forces has created an unstable environment of fear and threat.

Eight years after the Commission’s Report there are still no changes. On November 31st 2013, without any noise, the Act was extended again for another year in Manipur (see article AFSPA extended).

Tags: Irom Chanu Sharmila, Iron Lady of Manipur, ‘Le mashale’ (The Hindu), Malom incident, AFSPA Act, Jeevan Reddy Committee, Pranab Mukherjee, Fake encounters, Manorama case, AFSPA extended (The Hindu).

 Courtesy: Exposing AFSPA wordpress, epao, The Hindu.

 *At present, the AFSPA is relaxed in seven constituencies but the more vulnerable hill areas and a large part of Manipur are still exposed to continued misuse of the Act.

The above article is a toned down version on the various atrocities committed in the state in the name of AFSPA. Many sensitive incidents and issues have been deliberately omitted, however; interested persons can easily look it up in the internet under the Key word AFSPA Manipur.

The above article reflects the views and standpoint of the author.

All the pictures (Except for IMG 1) belong to the publisher and is subject to copyright.