AFSPA ~ long past its expiry date

Monalisa Changkija

Over a week ago, the Centre revoked the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) from Meghalaya and restricted it to eight police stations in Arunachal Pradesh. The question is: should the Act have been imposed in Meghalaya in the first place? Or in all or parts of several other Northeastern states? The AFSPA was first imposed in Nagaland decades ago to quell insurgency ~ unfortunately, the Act proved to be impotent because it spawns its own ineffectiveness to address issues of insurgency or what is perceived to be insurgency. The very fact of insurgencies sprouting up subsequently in almost all Northeastern states, besides Jammu & Kashmir, is evidence. Much have been said and written about the futility of this Act over the decades yet the Central Government appears to be unable to think of addressing and redressing insurgencies beyond the undemocratic and draconian AFSPA ~ ergo, it finds it convenient to allow itself to be “guided” by the Armed Forces’ perspective(s) of how insurgencies should be curbed and contained militarily hence AFSPA continues in parts of the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir.
Till about the mid-1990s, human rights were a major issue and winning platform for a lot of people in the Northeast and the rest of the country to make a name for themselves. It built the professional lives of many but since then, human rights went out of fashion, so to speak ~ not because human rights violations ceased but because human rights violations were mainly perceived through the prism of Army committing such violations. We will probably never know of the human rights violations by non-state actors because human rights activists and organizations didn’t/doesn’t care or dare to document human rights violations by non-state actors and the groups they belong(ed) to. Ironically, such violations by non-state actors are perceived by the Army as violence and a threat to the integrity of the Indian Union, hardly as human rights violations, not to mention as crimes against humanity ~ and such violations are one of the reasons for the continuation of AFSPA here. In the process, the Act has clearly been twisted as vital to safeguard the lives of people also. But for sure, taking the human rights violations by the armed forces head on and taking these issues to High Courts and even to the Supreme Court did have an impact on the Army’s record of human rights violations in the region and led it to change its strategy ~ of “befriending” the populace ~ but the AFSPA continues albeit a cosmetized face, which appears to no longer hold any allure to human rights activists and organizations. But the story doesn’t end here because reports of fake encounters corroborate the potential and the propensity of human rights violations as long as the AFSPA, the DAA and several other Police Acts continue.
Now, keeping in mind that the Central Government keeps on asserting the situational improvement in the Northeast vis-à-vis insurgency, why is AFSPA still seen as the only remedy to heal a malady that doesn’t seem to want to be cured? As a corollary, we must ask: what is the Central Government’s definition and perspectives of insurgency ~ against the background of the selective “peace talks” it agrees to have with selective insurgent groups? What exactly is the Centre’s policy on dealing with individual insurgencies in the Northeast other than imposing the AFSPA, of course? This begs an answer because the various and numerous insurgencies particularly in the Northeast have varied genesis ~ therefore each require individual policies, strategies and engagements. Moreover, surely there is a vast difference between insurgency and plain criminal activities ~ albeit over time, the line between the two has been almost erased? Unfortunately, like everything Northeast, even the varied insurgencies here have been clubbed together ~ but even a clubbed together policy and strategy in the form of the AFSPA haven’t proved potent; and there haven’t been any other clubbed together policy and strategy to address and redress insurgencies in the Northeast in sight for decades.
Except for Nagaland and Manipur, most insurgencies in the Northeast spouted recently ~ even the ULFA was formed in 1979. This then points to the Centre’s policies towards this region having contributed largely towards the sense of alienation more than the region’s populace wanting to break away from the country. And then, there is the fact that quite a few of the insurgencies here didn’t even emerge on the demand for “sovereignty”. The point is that the Centre failed to correctly read and analyze the reasons for the emergence of insurgencies in the Northeast in the past thirty-five to forty years and deal with them accordingly. What could have been dealt with by the state Governments here politically were addressed militarily by calling in the army and imposing AFSPA. This is the failure of intelligence agencies as well as that of the Centre’s by giving too much credulity to Northeastern state Governments’ reports without investigating and verifying the ground realities.
This of course also points to Northeastern state Governments ~ the political elite’s ~ vested interests to declare our states as insurgency-afflicted because insurgency brings in a lot of development funds. Someone at the Centre had this bright idea that development would cure insurgency but didn’t foresee that corruption would “divert” unmonitored development funds, which would lead to further discriminations, divisions and discontent and fuel the fires of “insurgencies”. Central and Northeastern politicians, including our Governors, are very fond of exhorting that development would create employment, which would gainfully keep our youths away from the “path of violence” but are silent about backdoor appointments and other forms of corruption that are today associated with even the humble job of a peon in any Government Department. How effective can AFSPA be against such corruption by the top echelons of the political and economic elites of the Northeast ~ because clearly insurgencies, and/or movements that have similarities to insurgencies, are also consequences of corruption ~ a major component of human rights violations ~ perpetrated on the masses here by our own people?
Most insurgencies or what are considered to be insurgencies in this region are directly linked to the Central and State Governments’ failure ~ in fact, inability and unwillingness ~ to see the tree from the wood. Till the Centre and the Northeastern state Governments confront facts on the ground, all kinds of insurgencies will continue and newer ones will emerge and the AFSPA will also continue to be a Band-Aid measure, although it has long past its expiry date. In fact, we are probably looking at worse to come seeing that so many promises have been made in the recent Northeastern state Assemblies elections, which are increasingly proving to be empty words and Northeastern communities are slowly but surely waking up to being duped once again. So necessarily the issue of justice must also be addressed because there cannot be peace without justice ~ and justice delivery is not the AFSPA’s (read Army) brief, nor is it constitutionally mandated to deliver justice.
(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Editor, Nagaland Page) (Courtesy: Assam Tribune)