All of Nagaland is 'disturbed', AFSPA extended: Why is it controversial?
Just days after forming a panel to review the controversial AFSPA in Nagaland, the Union Home Ministry has extended the law for 6 months calling the entire state 'disturbed'.
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Remember what happened in Nagaland when members of the armed forces gunned down innocent civilians who were returning from work on December 4, due to ‘mistaken identity’? Remember the anger and even more civilian killings in a melee with the armed forces that followed? The memories of this incident are still fresh, and there seems to be no end to the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Nagaland at the moment.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared the entire state of Nagaland ‘disturbed’ and extended AFPSA in the state for another six months. This announcement came just days after the MHA formed a committee to review withdrawal plans of the controversial act in Nagaland.
The decision to form the panel was taken during a December 23 meeting between the state and a Central delegation. It was formed after renewed protests by people, and even the BJP-led government of Nagaland, against AFSPA.
Protest by people of Nagaland against AFSPA. Photo: PTI
The panel is set to submit a report on the withdrawal plans of AFSPA in 45 days. However, what becomes of the report, now that the state has been declared ‘disturbed’ and in need of AFSPA, is unknown.
In fact, currently, an investigation is being held into the December 4 killings. The Court of Inquiry constituted by the Indian Army had visited the site of the incident on Wednesday, December 29.
Nagaland | The Court of Inquiry constituted by Indian Army to investigate the Mon incident visited the site at Oting village today. The inquiry team, headed by a senior rank officer, inspected the site to understand circumstances in which the incident could have happened: Army pic.twitter.com/IyFiQlqV2c— ANI (@ANI) December 29, 2021
WHAT IS AFSPA?
AFSPA is a British colonial-era law that was introduced in 1942 to suppress the Quit India movement. It allows the armed forces to open fire on civilians with just one warning. The armed forces can shoot or arrest anyone on mere ‘suspicion’ that they are insurgents or terrorists.
Independent India tweaked the Act a bit and used it to control areas hit by militancy.
The Act provides blanket immunity to the members of the armed forces from prosecution. So, the armed forces don’t face the consequences of killing or arresting anyone on suspicion, even if the said act was unjust. Only rarely, if the Centre gives permission to prosecute the members of the armed forces in such a case, can they be held accountable.
Currently, the Act is imposed in Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. It was first repealed from Punjab, then it was recently repealed from Tripura and Meghalaya.
In Nagaland, the Act has not been removed even partially since 1958. So when the panel to review the Act was formed, it was termed a major move by New Delhi.
WHY NAGALAND HAS AFSPA
The government first implemented AFSPA in the Naga Hills in 1958, when Nagaland was still a part of Assam. Then in 1963, it became a full-fledged state. AFSPA was imposed to suppress the insurgency which was mounting in the region.
Now, peace talks between the Government of India and several insurgent groups are currently underway. The December 4 civilian killings had threatened to undo the peace talks and give more ammo to the active insurgents to spread hate against Delhi and India. Now, with AFSPA, it needs to be seen how the announcement would impact the peace talks.
Moreover, the government has to tackle policing the over 1,000 km of land border that Nagaland shares with Myanmar. The porous borders make it easy for insurgents to slip in and out, and also smuggle drugs and arms.
WHY IS AFSPA CONTROVERSIAL?
Well, AFSPA has allowed for incidents like the December 4 killings to take place, without the perpetrators or those behind ‘intelligence failure’ ever being punished for the loss of innocent lives. But it doesn’t end with just one incident.
There are several instances of the abuse of power by the Armed forces resulting in killings and even rape in places where it was imposed in the past.
Some of the most documented fallouts of this Act were in Manipur. The 2000 Malom massacre, the killing and alleged rape of Thangjam Manorama resulted in AFSPA being repealed from Imphal. Nagaland and Manipur have also faced air raids and bombings by the Indian military in the 1950s.
A case filed in the Supreme Court in 2012 claimed that there were 1,528 fake encounters between 1979 and 2012 in areas with AFSPA. Some of these cases were investigated and found to be fake encounters.
While it’s just an ‘intelligence error’ to the government and the armed forces, it is the loss of loved ones to several families, whose, father, son, daughter, etc. were killed. Even so, the government is never made to answer why there was an intelligence error, or how it went wrong.
In the past, just like the latest effort to form a panel to begin the withdrawal process of AFSPA, attempts were made to repeal the law or review it.
However, for decades, repeal demands and attempts have been unfruitful.