Friday, April 5, 2013

A Milestone Judgement against AFSPA!

The spotlight is back on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act with a milestone judgement from our judicial system!

Based on two PILs on fake encounter killings and withdrawal of AFSPA from Manipur, the Supreme Court had commissioned a probe into the actual situation in the state. In January 2013, a three-member panel was set up to look into the incidents and for the first time in the history of AFSPA, a court-appointed panel has held security forces guilty of killing seven persons, including a 12-year-old boy in six fake encounters during 2009-10!!

The Hegde Panel as it is called, comprised of retired Justice Santosh Hegde of the SC, former CEC J M Lyngdoh and former Karnataka DGP Ajay Kumar Singh, is the first official panel to endorse the charge of GROSS VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS by the security forces operating under the hated and reviled AFSPA. For those, who have never heard of the act before and do not know what it is about, here’s a brief summary:

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, comes into force as soon as the Govt. declares a state to be ‘Disturbed’ and gives blanket powers to the forces to ARREST anyone merely on suspicion without requiring a warrant; pick people up for questioning; put them in remand and use any kind of force even if it causes DEATH!!! 

There can be NO prosecution, suit or ANY legal proceeding whatsoever, against ANYONE acting under this Act. Nor is the government's judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review. Are we living in a democratic state or a dictatorship???
Not surprisingly, the honorable court observed that security forces have conducted raids and resorted to FIRING merely on the basis of source information WITHOUT bothering to cross-check the authenticity of the ‘source’. This implies, anyone could complain to the Army about another person (even if it is just for the sake of settling a personal score) and the forces, without authenticating the complaint, can barge into a person's home, pick them up for questioning, use all the force they want, kill one or two people in the process and STILL not come up with ANY ACTUAL information!

The report says that forces are allegedly responsible for 1,528 extra-judicial killings in the past 30 years! Anyone with common sense would understand what our high ranking officials in the army and the government don’t and what was surmised for them by the justice bench, “This is not the best way to integrate (north-eastern) people. It is the best way to alienate them!”(Courtesy TOI Report).

Shocked by the report, the Justices reviewing the petition, Aftab Alam and Ranajana Desai, said the forces and police threw caution to the wind while following guidelines in conducting such “operations” and put a major portion of the blame on the Union government. They also observed, that elaborate guidelines laid down by Supreme Court, guidelines issued by Army headquarters, NHRC and Manipur government have all been confined to the papers. NOTHING is followed in practice by armed forces and police while carrying out the operations!!

This just goes to demonstrate what we have been saying all along, All is NOT Well with the security forces in troubled states. On 31 March 2012, the United Nations itself had asked India to revoke AFSPA saying that such a law had no place in a democracy!

 Protests against the AFSPA in Manipur and Delhi

Many human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned human rights abuses in Kashmir and North-East by forces in the form of ‘extra-judicial executions’, so called ‘disappearances’, and torture using electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees! {Check the post The Kashmir Conundrum for the situation in Kashmir}.

Irom Sharmila, a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from Manipur, has been on a hunger strike since 2 November 2000 (!!) to demand that the Indian government repeal the AFSPA which has devastated her state. 

She has been christened the ‘World's longest hunger striker’ and is currently under trial for attempted suicide under ANOTHER outdated and draconian law!! She has been forcefully fed through a naso-gastric tube for thirteen years as the state does not want her to die and unfortunately, does not want to do anything to resolve the issue as well!

In 2004, tired of the repeatd abuse and rapes, Manipuri women took out a NUDE PROTEST to condemn the alleged rape and custodial death of 32-year-old woman Thangjam Manorama by Assam Rifles personnel. Compare it with the media coverage that Delhi Rape case got, and you'll realize we don't have the slightest clue about the condition of women in Manipur!

The movement, spearheaded by 32 social organizations became violent after a student leader Pebam Chittaranjan immolated himself on the Independence Day in 2004. Pebam left a suicide note before putting himself to fire, which said: "It is better to self-immolate than die at the hands of security forces under this Act. With this conviction I am marching ahead of the people as a human torch." He ran for about 100 metres with his body in flames before falling to the ground in Bishenpur Bazaar!!

Manipuri women protest against Indian Army 

What shocks you more.. the desperation of these people, or that you haven’t heard any of this ever before?? The only memory of Manipur you might have is the name of Mary Kom, who won the bronze medal for India in 2012 Olympics. Yet, what we do not know is the harsh conditions she has faced to be where she is today!!

Taking into account the state's geographical location, Manipur can actually serve as the perfect Gateway to South-East Asia! A Trans-Asian Railway Network (TARN) which was proposed ages ago, if constructed, could connect India through Manipur to Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and even Singapore and ensure development and prosperity throughout its route!

Instead, we are involved in a vicious cycle of subjugation and retaliation of our own citizens! It is hard to visualize the army and forces as anything short of heroes as they are people from our own families/friends/acquaintances whom we have known for ages. But, what is important to remember is that in such extreme conditions, away from their families for long, abused and subjugated by the superiors, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, having the unlimited powers that AFSPA provides, these same people have been raping/kidnapping/extorting/beating up and (as the court declared above), murdering people in cold blood! 

It may not be prudent to COMPLETELY revoke the Act given that there definitely is a resurgence issue in Manipur but there is a dire need to revise it and add some accountability to the people enjoying immense powers under it! 

To be fair, not everyone abuses the power, but those who DO NOT stop their colleagues from doing so, are equally responsible and so is the media that does not bring this issue out in the open! Should we just sit and watch what’s happening till the same situation happens in our own state or city? Shouldn't the law be the same for every citizen including the Army and the Police?

The court has sought responses from the Centre, the Manipur government and the National Human Rights Commission within five days. Till then, let’s do OUR bit to stop this injustice on citizens of our OWN country by those who have more power than us and DO NOT hesitate to misuse it!! 

Spread the word and make people aware of the realities our fellow citizens are facing
Jai Hind!

Skeptics please check out the following links as an eye-opener:  

MANIPUR ON FIRE". Frontline. September 2004