AFSPA: The hated Act must go

AFSPA: The hated Act must go THE HINDU -23-10-06

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 "should be repealed," as the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee set up to review its provisions has recommended unambiguously. "The Act is too sketchy, too bald, and quite inadequate in several particulars," the committee explains, adding that "for whatever reason" it has become in the Northeast "a symbol of oppression, an object of hate, and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness." It balances this recommendation by noting that "the overwhelming desire of the overwhelming majority" of people in the Northeast is that "the Army should remain [though the Act should go]." The 147-page report was submitted in June 2005. For the United Progressive Alliance Government to procrastinate any longer on tabling it in Parliament, and acting on it, would be political folly of the first rank. This newspaper obtained a copy of the report and published its highlights in the issue of October 8. Subsequently, it posted, in the public interest, the whole report on its website campaign website against AFSPA The draconian Act - a hand-over from the British Raj - was brought into force in 1980 in parts of the Northeast, including Manipur where opposition to it is strongest. Labelling virtually the whole State as a "disturbed" area, the armed forces have had a free run under cover of the Act, which empowers them to arrest, search, and shoot anyone on the basis of mere suspicion.

The rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by men of the Assam Rifles in 2004 as well as other incidents came in the backdrop of the structure of high-handedness it engendered. Reliance on such statutes to perpetrate state violence invites counter-violence in a region that should be doing much better. All this slows down the search for political solutions and undermines development effort.

There can be no quarrel with the committee's recommendation that the armed forces should stay on in the region, given its continuing volatility. However, the rationale for the suggested incorporation of certain provisions of the hated Act in other laws is dubious. The state already has all the powers it needs in other instrumentalities. Through repealing the Act, the Government can set the stage for an active peace process, especially in Manipur (which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of all violent incidents in the Northeast). That draconian laws cannot be repealed so long as there are forces that conduct politics through violence is a morally feeble argument. It sanctions a vicious cycle in politics. If the Government asks the right question - do the armed forces need extraordinary protective guarantees and immunity in the line of duty more than the ordinary people need the constitutional protection - it will come up with the right answer.

Visit Manipur for More Information and followup of campaign to repeal AFSPA