A South India Level Seminar, Journalist’ Meet and Public meeting on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 was held on April 13 at the Indian Social Institute (ISI) in Bangalore.
In his introductory speech. Fr. M.K.George, Director of ISI, Bangalore said that Securityis a basic human need. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is probably the single most direct instrument impacting the democratic rights of the Indian people. Passed in 1958 when the Naga movement had just begun, the Act is implemented when an area is declared ‘disturbed’ by either the central or the state government, under the Disturbed Areas Act, and when the Army is ‘summoned’ to help civil authorities control ‘armed insurrection’.
Dr. Walter Fernandes of the North Eastern Social Research Centre stated that AFSPAexists with impunity.“Many women testified before Justice Varma Committee and its recommendations almost in vain. Naga and Jammu & Kashmir government want AFSPArepealed. But their state laws more repressive,” he says.
Hormis Tharakan, former Advisor to Governor and Chief of Raw stated that, “We shouldunderstand the history behind AFSPA without prejudice. Army needs police powers to be deployed as civilian areas are under police jurisdiction. There is scope for improvement to make AFSPA more in line with international standards of human rights, for one investigative powers to look into army excess should not be with army.
Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur stated by quoting how G B Pant introduced AFSPA in Parliament on 22nd May 1958, it was a temporary measures only to deal with Naga insurgency in the Naga hills. Fifty years later we now see that the deployment of the Act is nether been temporary or limited geographical areas. Initially, it was limited to Naga Hills and Lusai hills in its spread to Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Brahmaputra valley (heart of NE) and in the 1990’s extended to Kashmir. In 1998, Supreme Courtsaid it’s unadvisable to continuewith AFSPA.
Teresa Rehman, Managing Editor, The Thumb Print magazine said Manipur experiences more killings than Kashmir but figures less in media. For the media there are no simple solutions in the North East. There is no support in terms of advertisement. The journalists are poorly paid and newsprint comes expensive after travelling such a distance. “More than the physical damage it is the damage to the psyche of the people that it is detrimental, two generations of now grown up in low intensity war environment,” she adds.
Arvind Narrain, Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore said that the disturbing part the contrast with which people from the northeast and periphery are treated. Mahatma Gandhi’s longest successfast was 21 days in colonial rule, Irom’s Sharmila has been on for 13 years in independent India with no response.
Mr. Santanu, ALF, Bangalore made a point about on the economy of AFSPA, regarding gallantry awards and medals for those army personnel involved in conflict zones. There have 223 out of turn promotions and gallantry awards to army. In 1990 AFSPAwas introduced in J&K, till date GOI has apparently not sanctioned any court martial or enquiry into alleged encounters in J&K since 1990.J&K police bill modifying recommendation policing. APDP and IPTK havefound 214 cases involving army, police, etc.
Ms. Darshana, of ALF said, “Why are we legalizing illegalities. People from mainland India do not realize its privileges till it has some interactions with the Northeast of India and J&K . There are privileges associated with your appearance, language and origin.”
R.N. Ravi, Retd. Director of IB for the Northeast India said, “Wartimeprovisionwith British legislative have continued in Independent India under AFSPA. The only difference in thecolonial Act, is that extends the impunity to non-commissioned soldiers too. Counterinsurgency in our country is war. In Manipur, it’s tough to even approach a police station for any assistance.”
Khalid Waseem, Department of Political Science, St. Joseph College said,“We must understand the context and also relationship between Indian state and the AFSPAregions. Is it a tool for Government of Indiato prove its sovereignty?”
Dr. Rini Ralte, Department of Women’s Studies, UTC, Bangalore, shared her experiences. “Land is a major issue contributionto problems there. Boundaries are made randomly without local involvement and understanding sensibilities. Mizoramhas national and international boundaries. Peace accord signed in 1986 and considered peaceful. Mizoramand church culture promotes silence of women despite facing sexual violence,” she says.
Dr.Chhungi, Executive Secretary, Commission on Tribals, NCCI stated, “Government of India does not address geopolitical problems. All voices of resistance are suppressed as insurgent. Sadly, they become violent to be heard. We face racial profiling outside Northeast India.”
In the following discussion participants from the four southern states discussed how to carry forward this campaign. To look beyond AFSPA and move to issues concerning impunity of the state and increasing militarization of governance and decreasing democratic spaces.
The concluding session is public meeting raising similar concerns and the speakers were Mr. Ravi from Retd. Director of IB for the North East, Teresa Rehman, Managing Editor, The Thumb Print, Assam and Mr. Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur.