A new leverage against AFSPA

Witoubou Newmai


Of late, our society seems to have started considering the issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as a shibboleth. This dwindling enthusiasm in campaigning against the black law prompts us to ask whether such initiatives are driven by reasons, other than our moral values.


This writer was provoked to write on this issue following a series of comments on the draconian law in the past few days.


Writing on ‘The Print’ two days ago, Lieut. Gen. (Retd) DS Hooda commented, “…this is perhaps a good time to review the AFSPA.” He is the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command.


According to Hooda, AFSPA “has long been criticised by civil society groups as being draconian, but an amendment to the act was strongly opposed by the Army on the grounds that it is an enabling act that provides the required protection to soldiers operating in disturbed areas.”


“This may no longer be true,” he later observed.


“Therefore, a new legislation is required that would address the concerns of soldiers as well as strengthen respect for human rights by dealing swiftly with any violation. The action must now shift from the Supreme Court to the Parliament House,” the former Army officer advocated.


Such a comment coming out from a stature of a retired Lieutenant General of the Indian Army gives immense leverage and thrust to the anti-AFSPA campaigners. Those activists already overwhelmed by lethargy need to take note of this.


Speaking at a consultation programme in New Delhi a few days back, Journalist and author Sanjoy Hazarika stated: “In an environment of impunity and intimidation fostered by archaic laws such as AFSPA, ‘truth-seeking and truth-telling’ is very difficult as is upholding the rights and the interests of the victims.”


Sanjoy, who is also the Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said that AFSPA defies logic and “needs to go.”


In ‘Self Determination-A Resource for JustPeace’, Dr Aküm Longchari forcefully illustrated the Act’s powerful draconian proclivity.


“The AFSPA which was passed by Parliament gives Indian armed forces the power to ‘shoot and kill’ on mere suspicion to ‘maintain law and order’, and provides impunity from any legal proceeding for acts legally perpetrated under this Act,” he stated.


Dr Longchari, however, highlighted that: “The AFSPA has not only failed in its objective to curb ‘hostility,’ but has also determined the democratic character of the Indian State, further demonstrating her belief in the use of force to protect her territorial integrity.”


According to the Amnesty International, during the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay’s visit to India in March 2009, it was clearly stated that AFSPA breached contemporary international human rights standards.


Despite its immense actual and perceived potentiality to create ‘menace,’ the campaigns for AFSPA’s abolition or amendment, unfortunately, seem to be waning with many activists in our region feeling saturated and wishing it away frivolously.


“The struggle for the repeal of the AFSPA has now been reduced to passing resolutions…,” rued Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M Hongray in ‘The Judgement That Never Came.’


The cogent views and arguments should not be treated lightly. The campaigns against the AFSPA should not go “out of fashion” as there are enough leverages and instances to show that it is the other way around. An archaic and draconian Act like AFSPA is ‘out of sync’ in a modern democratic set-up.