The entire state of Nagaland had been declared a “disturbed area” for 6 more months with effect from 30th December 2020, under Section 3 of the AFSPA.
You must be wondering what “AFSPA” is, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 permits security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without prior notice, enter and search premises without a warrant and ban the possession of firearms.
This Act has been in force in Nagaland for several decades now and has not been withdrawn even after the framework agreement signed by the Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and the government interlocutor, R N Ravi in the presence of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Various organizations in the northeast as well as in Jammu and Kashmir, demand for the abolition of the controversial Act which they say gives “sweeping powers” to the security forces. The Act gives authority to the armed forces to prohibit a gathering of five or more people in an area and can open fire after furnishing a warning if they feel that a person is not adhering to the rules and regulations.
The definition of ‘Disturbed Area’ under Section 3 of the AFSPA includes the area which is disturbed due to the dispute between members of different religions, races, languages or regional groups, castes or communities. Once a region is declared ‘disturbed’ by the Central Government, or the Governor of the State or administrator of the Union Territory, the region is treated as such for three months straight.
This Act is currently enforced in Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and parts of Arunachal Pradesh (eight police stations). Jammu and Kashmir too had a similar Act imposed. The bone of contention in the application of the AFSPA act lies in the fact that it provides the security troupe with absolute powers without it being held accountable, which leads to extensive barbarity and human rights violations. It is also in derogation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture.
There is a need for the AFSPA, as it is essential to combat insurgency in the country and to protect the borders. The security forces, in case of an emergency, are not able to operate without the imposition of the AFSPA and the Army officials also felt the need to protect the morale and integrity of the army as a reason not to look over the allegations against the army personnel.
Nagaland which was a peaceful state is now painted in a picture of chaos and lawlessness by the Center’s notification. The world is a spectator of the fact that Nagaland is not what it is made to look like, thanks to the ill-intended notice of the Central Government. The federation has also restated its deep-rooted view that the AFSPA disobeys the Constitution as it infringes upon the Fundamental Rights of the citizens and that the law must be abolished. Should the Armed Forces Special Powers Act be repealed by the Government of India?
This question was asked to the people, the one’s who voted “Yes” said that the AFSPA is a strict Act which could be enacted in a Military State but not in a Democratic State, individuals' demands and welfare must also be considered in a democratic country like India. This Act, like many other things, was taken from our colonial masters- The British.
In the current scenario, the Act should be repealed, as India is a full-fledged democracy. This Act should not have a place at all in the 21st century, as it raises a finger on India’s political grit to solve its internal problems.
People who voted “No”, said that corruption is skyrocketing and it will become hard to survive without the absolute authority of the special forces. Moreover, it would be difficult to handle terrorism, hence, it should stay until the situation comes under control and Nagaland emerges a peaceful state.
AFSPA should be amended to include elaborate rules to ensure a routine investigation of alleged human rights violations thereby reducing the possibility of the Act being misused. The army should exercise strong scrutiny over the human rights violations it tends to cause, as it is the biggest threat to its credibility and the outstanding record of fighting insurgencies over the last 62 years.
Another disheartening issue is the rapes that occur in the regions, which come under the AFSPA, they fall into the category of rapes which are tacitly supported by the dominant majority, as most such rapes are inflicted with impunity being exercised by the members of the armed forces because of the protective provisions of the Act. The harsh reality is that such cases do not attract the attention of the general public just because the victims often belong to the minority, ethnic or religious groups. The irony is, that people who participated in protests after the Nirbhaya incident are not even aware of such barbaric crimes taking place in the North-East or the Kashmir Valley.
Resolution of the long-running insurgency in the north-eastern states can be achieved through dialogue between the government and the insurgent groups. The lack of development is a major contributor to the insurgency in the North-East region. The government should take steps to create a new channel of growth through industrialization and infrastructural development.
It is certain that it is a specific area-targeted ‘Draconian Law’ which has outlived its utility, as it does not deliver the interest of the civilians nor does it fulfil the purpose of the State to contain insurgent movements. It only allows the military to arbitrarily use it to violate civilians’ rights. Due to its imposition, the armed forces have now become an enemy of the citizens.
Despite all of the problems, a glimmer of hope can be seen through the Indo-Naga peace talks, after the government-appointed interlocutor R.N. Ravi has taken over as the governor of Nagaland. There is a probability of the AFSPA being revoked in all of North-East India, once the ongoing Indo-Naga talks conclude.
Let us hope and pray for the Indo-Naga talks to steer towards promising waters and experience a new era of peace and development.
The sooner, the better!