Will Remove AFSPA From N-East After Ensuring Peace: Amit Shah

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday said that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government would remove Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) only after installing peace in northeast India.

“Rahul Gandhi gave Congress an agenda to remove AFSPA from the northeast if they came to power (in 2019), for the sake of appeasement. When it was asked of me, I said we will first bring peace in the northeast and then only will remove AFSPA, which would not happen just for appeasement,” Amit Shah said addressing a public gathering at the inauguration of the newly built BJP office– Atal Bihari Vajpayee Bhawan in Guwahati, which is spread over 95,000 square feet and is the party’s biggest office in the northeastern region, expected to be full of all modern amenities.

The Ministry of Home Affairs recently extended the AFSPA, an act that empowers the armed forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas,” in some parts of the northeast for another six months.

In an order on October 1, the AFSPA was extended in certain regions of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. However, the act was extended in Assam for six months on February 28, 2022, and on December 1, 2021, in Manipur.

This is the home minister’s first visit to the region after the extension of the act.

Addressing the public, Shah asserted that the party office for the BJP is a temple and not just a house of bricks and stone.

“For a BJP worker, the office is not a building, the office is a bundle of emotions. Here the work is outlined, this is where the plans for the development of the entire northeast India and Assam of the BJP are made,” Shah said while highlighting the all-around development in the region.

Expressing his contentment over the development of Assam and the northeast, Amit Shah asserted that the party’s consecutive rule in the region has ensured an “all-round development”.

“During my Vidyarthi Parishad days, we had never imagined if we would make a government on our own in Assam, but today, the consecutive rule of BJP in the state has been ensuring all-round development,” he said underscoring that instead of arriving in Assam as Home Minister this time, Shah said he has come as a BJP worker.

“I am very happy today that in the short span of 2014 to 2022, the entire North East and our Assam has started on the path of development today. It is a matter of good fortune for a worker like me that the development of both North East and BJP (here in North East) are going hand-in-hand,” he added.

He further attacked Congress for making the peaceful land of Assam turn divisive.

“People were always worried that if Assam doesn’t get inclusive growth, it would be a big problem for North East. The underlying reason was Congress, which always was keen to make the pious and peaceful land of Assam, a divisive one,” Shah added while alleging that the Congress-led UPA government had made the “great land of Assam a land of disintegration, of terrorism, of strikes, of agitations”.

He said that it is the resolution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government to bring Northeast to the mainstream for its development as is evident that the BJP leader (Shah and national president JP Nadda) visit each state of the seven sisters every fortnight, even if they come for one night. (ANI)

Read More:https://lokmarg.com/

AFSPA In 9 Districts Of Nagaland

Centre Extends AFSPA In 9 Districts Of Nagaland For 6 Months

The Central government has extended the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in nine districts of Nagaland, including Dimapur, Niuland, Chumoukedima, Mon, Kiphire, Noklak, Phek, Peren, and Zunheboto, from Saturday (October 1) to March 30 next year, according to a notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

In addition, the Government of India has also extended AFSPA in the areas falling within the jurisdiction of 16 police stations in four districts of Nagaland including five police stations in Kohima district; six police stations in Mokokchung district; Yanglok police station in Longleng district; and four police stations in Wokha district.
These 16 police stations comprise Khuzama, Kohima North, Kohima South, Zubza, and Kezocha police stations in the Kohima district; Mangkolemba, Mokokchung-l, Longtho, Tuli, Longchem, and Anaki ‘C’ police stations in Mokokchung district; Yanglok police station in Longleng district; and Bhandari, Champang, Ralan and Sungro police stations in Wokha district.

“Dimapur, Niuland, Chumoukedima, Mon, Kiphire, Noklak. Phek, Peren, and Zunheboto districts in Nagaland and the areas in Nagaland falling within the jurisdiction of i) Khuzama, Kohima North, Kohima South, Zubza, and Kezocha police stations in Kohima District; ii) Mangkolemba, Mokokchung-l, Longtho, Tuli, Longchem, and Anaki °C’ police stations in Mokokchung District; iii) Yanglok police station in Longleng District, and iv) Bhandari, Champang. “Ralan and Sungro police stations in Wokha District are declared as’ disturbed areas’ under Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 for a period of six months with effect from October 1, 2022, unless withdrawn earlier,” reads a notification issued by the MHA on Friday.

The Centre took the step following a further review of the law and order situation in Nagaland.

Earlier, the Central Government in the exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (28 of 1958) had declared nine districts and 16 Police Stations in four other districts of Nagaland as ‘disturbed area’ for a period of six months with effect from April 1 to September 30, 2022.

The AFSPA empowers security forces to arrest a person without a warrant, enter or search premises without a warrant, and perform other actions. (ANI)

Read More:https://lokmarg.com/

Centre Extends AFSPA In Nagaland For Six Months

The Centre on Thursday extended the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 or AFSPA in Nagaland for another six months, mentioning that the state is in such a “disturbed and dangerous condition” that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary.

The announcement was made through a gazette notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs amid calls from the Northeastern state to withdraw it after the alleged botched security operation near Oting Village in Nagaland’s Mon district that left 14 civilians and one jawan dead on December 4.

“Whereas the Central Government is of the opinion that the area comprising the whole of the state of Nagaland is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary,” the notification said.

“Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (No.28 of 1958) the Central Government hereby declares that whole of the State of Nagaland to be ‘disturbed area’ for a period of six months with effect from December 30, 2021 for the purpose of the said Act,” it mentioned.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 provides certain special powers to a member of the Armed Forces in areas in the Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The powers were also extended to forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir as well.

Interestingly, the law was first introduced by the British to suppress the Quit India movement in 1942.

AFSPA confers special powers on the armed forces in areas deemed “disturbed”. In a ‘disturbed area,’ a military officer can fire upon an unlawful assembly of five or more people if the need arises or even for illegal possession of firearms.

Moreover, according to the law, no arrest and search warrants are required for any operation.

It also provides protection to persons acting under Act, which means ‘No prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act’. (ANI)

AFSPA Needs Constant Reviews, Not Knee-Jerk Repeal

The recent case of December 5, 2021 where the security forces in Mon, Nagaland killed 13 innocent civilians in an ambush and subsequent unrest and resulting in death of a soldier, has renewed the demand for repeal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act -1958 or AFSPA. As per the presumably draconian act, Security Forces (including the para military forces of Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles) and Central Police Organisations (CPOs) including BSF and CRPF, are given sweeping powers to search and seizure in civilian inhabited areas and arrest suspects without warrant for a limited period. Armed Forces can also open effective fire on terrorists or militants under this act.

AFSPA can only be applied by the Union Government where law and order has broken down and a defined area, district or the entire state has been declared disturbed, under the Disturbed Area Act, by the State Government. While the AFSPA gives special powers to the security forces and CPOs, the principle of minimum force and restraint is always exercised by commanders and troops at all levels. ‘One off’ actions like the incident at Mon happen due to the lack of judgment, scanty knowledge of the ground, and inept training at the junior level, and the actions by erring members of security forces never go unpunished.

Most of the areas where the Disturbed Area Act has been applied, fall in border areas wherein trans-border or trans-Line of Control (LoC) movement takes place with connivance of security forces of Pakistan, China and Myanmar. Immunity for acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, looting or drug trafficking is not given under this Act to any security forces under the AFSPA; as is widely misunderstood by a section of the society. Because the security forces in these border areas have to intercept armed infiltrating and exfiltrating groups in real time, immunity to take action against such groups is covered under AFSPA.

In practice, invariably, the security forces are accompanied by local civil police who are handed over the captured terrorists, militants, suspects, weapons, ammunition and dead bodies after the encounters. Utmost care is taken to use minimum force against such terrorist or militant in order to avoid collateral damage. However, if some unfortunate collateral damage takes place in conduct of bona fide duty, then the security forces who had operated in good faith are immune from being apprehended by the civil police and tried by civil court. However, the actions of troops are scrutinised under the Army Act and departmental disciplinary action is taken against defaulting service persons without delay; in pursuit of justice for the innocents, as per the law of the land.

The AFSPA is required to defeat the machinations of the adversaries who sponsor proxy war on our borders in a bid to destabilise the Indian state. AFSPA has also been applied in counter insurgency operations in hinterland in our Northern and North Eastern States of J&K (now Union Territory), Punjab, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Without the legal shield provided by AFSPA, the security forces would be hesitant to take offensive actions against the armed insurgents and those groups may continue to operate with impunity.

ALSO READ: Indian Army Is People’s Fauj, Not Modi’s

However, utmost care has to be taken to ensure fire is not opened on innocent civilians and warning and restraint need to be exercised. Normally, the security forces only open fire in self defence when the terrorists open fire on to them from the opposite direction or from a flank. This restraining action also ensures that innocent civilians are not targeted. The life of an active terrorist or militant is not more than an year after he starts indulging in violent actions against the population, civil police or security forces. Therefore, if the information about the movement of terrorists is not confirmed, they are given the benefit of the doubt with the hope that they will fall in the hands of the security forces if they continued perpetuating violence in the society.

An issue related to continuity of AFSPA in some border states is the state and quality of the civil police in that state. Due to coercion or sympathy for the terrorist groups, who may be seen as freedom fighters by a section of the local population, a portion of the civil police invariably gets compromised and may not be acting in the interest of the Indian State. There is a dire need for police reforms in the country wherein politicians are stripped from the powers of employing the civil police as per their whims and fancy resulting in employment of overwhelming strength of the police force only on protection of the VVIPs leaving a small portion of the force to do the extended police duties for the common man.

Whereas the need to have AFSPA is paramount for security forces operating in difficult terrain against armed groups in border areas, its continuation in hinterland in less disturbed areas needs to be constantly reviewed and the act should be lifted wherever semblance of normalcy start showing up. The Act was lifted from Punjab after about ten years of its imposition once the state dramatically returned to normalcy in 1995. Similarly, in the North East, the law has been lifted from Tripura and Meghalaya but continues to be applied in Nagaland from 1958 onwards. There is a case for identifying less threatened areas of Nagaland and Manipur and lift the Disturbed Area Act and AFSPA from those areas. The state governments and security forces need to be dynamically reviewing the situation every three to six months to decide if a particular area needs to be removed from the listed Disturbed area so that AFSPA is no more applicable in that area.

(Lt Gen Ike Singha was on the Kashmir desk in Military Operations Directorate from 1993 to 1997)

AFSPA No Longer Relevant In North-East

A day after the Indian armed forces ambushed and killed 17 coal miners in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4 in what was stated to be a case of mistaken identity during a counter-insurgency operation, a friend sent me this link to a song by a Manipuri band called Imphal Talkies and the Howlers. If you listen to the song, the words are:

“AFSPA, why don’t you go fuck yourself?
Don’t you have brothers?
Don’t you have commanders?
Don’t you have captains?
Why don’t you go fuck them all?
Why don’t you go Kill them all?
Tidim Road is still bloody
And the air smells of gunpowder
And from my windows I can see only widows
And mama don’t want me to sing such songs.
So please please leave
AFSPA, why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

The song dates back to 2016 but the sentiment expressed in it is still strongly alive and widespread through the north-eastern region of India: Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam. AFSPA or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is hated almost universally in the region. But what exactly is AFSPA?

The origins of AFSPA (like hundreds of Indian laws) date back to the days of the British Raj. In 1942, in an attempt to quell the spread of the Quit India movement, the British colonial government that ruled India promulgated the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance. Later, in 1948, to stem the rioting and violence that erupted because of the Partition of India, four ordinances, modeled on the one from 1942, were promulgated to cover four regions, Assam, West Bengal, East Bengal, and the United Provinces. These areas were declared as disturbed and the armed forces were empowered specially to operate there.

After the mid-1950s when the Naga rebellion gathered momentum and a parallel Naga nation was declared, another law was passed. The Naga rebellion (or, as it is officially called, insurgency) was quelled but the act remains in force, validated by regular extensions. This is the AFSPA that (after several amendments) still exists in the area.

To put it in perspective, region-specific special powers were also granted to armed forces in Punjab and Chandigarh in 1983 to combat the rising separatist movement there but the act was repealed after 14 years in 1997. In 1990, a similar act was promulgated in the Jammu and Kashmir region after the spate of unrest and terrorism began growing in the region. AFSPA is still in force in J&K. As it is in the North-East.

In the North-East, almost universally, AFSPA is considered an excessively harsh and severe law that is prone to abuse by security and armed forces. It gives the armed forces the authority to use force or even open fire after warning a person found to be in contravention of the law. In the case of the unarmed Naga miners who were gunned down, interviews with survivors reveal otherwise. The Indian Express published interviews where survivors said they were not signaled to stop nor warned before the forces opened fire.

AFSPA in the North-East has faced criticism for a while. The latest incident brings the issue back into the spotlight. AFSPA has militarized parts of India close to the borders–both in the east or in the west. This has already had adverse effects on civil life, living conditions and the economy in many of these areas. In the North-East where insurgency has been on a steady decline, many believe it is non-aggressive interventions that hold the key to normalizing the tension.

India’s north-east has its own share of problems. Many north-easterners face discrimination in other parts of India; industries have not been investing in the region; and social and cultural differences are often not acknowledged or appreciated by the rest of India. The public mood and opinion the region have suffered another setback with the recent horrific killings, which even the local police authorities have described as being “murders”. It is time now to review the provisions of AFSPA, at least in the North-East

How dangerous is Omicron?

Ever since a new variant of COVID-19 surfaced in South Africa, giving yet another never-ending twist to the ongoing pandemic, questions have arisen about how bad this new mutated version, named Omicron, could be. To be sure, there are no clear answers. At least, not yet. But there are some indicators of what the variant can do.

First, Omicron may be more easily spreadable. If the surge of cases in South Africa is indicative of anything it shows that Omicron could be more easily spread. As on December 9, in South Africa, records showed that the virus increased 255% in just a week. Although deep research into a very recent variant such as Omicron has not been done yet, epidemiologists believe that it can infect people with low immunity levels more than earlier variants of COVID-19 do.

Second, it has already been noticed that vaccinated people or those who have already been infected before by COVID can contract the variant more easily than the earlier mutations of the virus. 

Third, and there is a small nugget of hope here, is that the conditions that accompany infection by the virus may not be that severe. Although it may be too early to pass judgment about it, many patients infected by Omicron have shown milder symptoms than what happened with earlier variants.

While research continues into COVID and its several variants, the bottomline is that there is no substitute for abundant precautions against the spread of the virus: masks, social distancing, and vaccination. These may not offer 100% protection but till the elusive COVID-free world returns, these (often irritating) measures have to be prudently adopted.

Does AFSPA Know A Mother’s Heart?

Deep sadness stalks the pristine landscape. The simmering shadow of angst and anger lingers like a specter of death across the villages and towns of Nagaland with its simple, hardworking people in the distant North-east of India. The legendary Hornbill Festival, with its pulsating rhythms, collective joy and beautiful oral and folk traditions, will not happen this year. The people of Nagaland are in mourning.

As many as 13 innocent citizens were killed by the security forces in the Oting-Tiru area on December 4, and in Mon one day later, in indiscriminate firing by the Army. One jawan was also killed in the clash which followed with people protesting the Army ambush.

You should see the silent suffering of the parents, including the mother and father of the twin brothers, among the six coal miners, shot dead in cold blood, for no rhyme or reason. The mother and father sit hunched outside their homes, stupefied, their stoic faces telling yet another story of the predictable pattern repeated yet again in the Northeast, reminiscent of similar massacres and killings in the past.

The six coal miners were returning on a pick-up truck, on Saturday, perhaps singing, happy to go back home and be among their people on the weekend, looking forward to go to Sunday church next morning. Instead, their coffins were neatly lined up for burial, from earth to earth, life to death — and so meaningless, brutish, short and nasty.

Video images have reportedly emerged of the Army trying to allegedly shift the ‘hidden’ bodies in another truck covered with tarpaulin, after wrapping them up in plastic. If these reports are authentic, and which sources in the Nagaland Police are claiming so, then why should the Army be indulging in this terrible camouflage?

The Indian Express (December 6, 2021) has reported from Dibrugarh: “Direct marise… they shot right at us,” said Sheiwang, 23. He is among the only two survivors of the eight coal miners in Oting village. Six of his friends were killed. He has been shot on his elbow and chest and he is battling for life at the Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) in Dibrugarh. Along with Yeihwang, 30, another survivor, now in a critical state, was shot near his ear. According to the report: “Union Home Minister Amit Shah in a statement in Rajya Sabha on Monday said the vehicle ‘was signaled to stop’ and was fired upon after it ‘tried to flee’. However, Sheiwang says: “We were not signaled to stop. They killed us directly. We were not trying to flee…we were just in the vehicle.”

The entire Naga society, civil society groups, the Naga Students’ Federation, political parties, the state government, have demanded that the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act-1958 (AFSPA), first enacted by the British, should go. This has been a universal demand across the country since long, but most regimes have refused to scrap AFSPA, except the Left-led government of Tripura, with Manik Sarkar at the helm. Under the Act, the Army can shoot and arrest, and they have total impunity.

ALSO READ: Exhuming Extra-Judicial Deaths In Punjab

Over the decades, cold-blooded massacres and killings have become a method in the madness in the Northeast, but justice has eluded the people, despite huge public protests. The blood of innocents has been relentlessly spilled — what happened in Nagaland is nothing but a chronicle of a tale foretold.

Manipur, in the neighbourhod, has had its own litany of tragedy and injustice. Indeed, the lines of control of the so-called ‘disturbed areas’ where AFSPA has been enacted, are etched as lines of infinite sorrow in the hearts and soul of the people.

Extra-judicial killings had become rampant in Manipur earlier. The Mint, (August 1, 2018), reported: “A two-judge bench of the apex court on 27 July pulled up CBI for delays in investigating extrajudicial killings in Manipur and in filing of charges. On 30 July, Justice MB Lokur and Justice UU Lalit hammered home the point when they summoned CBI director Alok Verma… There is reason for the court’s impatience. The hearings are on account of a PIL by the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur, and the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert (HRA), a watchdog. The PIL alleged 1,528 extrajudicial killings between 1980 and 2011. The allegations were against the Indian Army, its adjunct Assam Rifles, several central paramilitary forces, and the Manipur Police. While police are not protected by the immunity-and-impunity provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, they piggy-backed on the practice of security forces to conduct their own campaigns of… intimidation…” In July 2017, a Supreme Court bench also brushed aside the adequacy of claims by the government that compensation had been paid to families of the victims. The court underscored its own observation from 2015: “Now it’s like you kill 10 people, pay compensation and the matter ends there…”

In the picturesque mountain village of Malom in Manipur, amidst undulating meadows of the magical Imphal valley, across the rice fields and pristine ponds, a silent memorial tells its own sad story, with the names of the dead, young and old, all innocent, etched forever as a testimony of Army atrocities. Infamously remembered as the ‘Malom Massacre’, 10 locals, including a national bravery award winner, were shot dead by the 17 Assam Rifles on November 2, 2000 here. This massacre triggered the 16-year long Gandhian fast and satyagraha of Irom Sharmila, with iron in her soul, a nasal pipe for forcible liquid transmission in her nose, condemned as a prisoner for years.

As her fast in custody, drawing global attention, entered its 15th year, this reporter met her on November 5, 2015 in Imphal. In her one-room ‘cell’, with solidarity messages and newspaper clippings on the wall, including a letter by Nelson Mandela, surrounded by books, including one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  she had said, “How can nations call themselves advanced or civilised if they practice, sanction and legitimise organized barbarism in the name of law and order? Why can’t they repeal AFSPA if they know so well that it is completely inhuman, anti-democratic, brutal, and irrational; that, it has led to mass insecurity, relentless tragedies, angst and injustice in Manipur and Kashmir; that it has led to the armed forces going berserk without accountability and with absolute impunity? I am fighting for reason and humanity. My struggle is peaceful. Why should the armed forces be allowed to kill and torture and get away? Why are we treated differently from the rest of India?”

Indeed, while her protest continued, so did the peaceful vigil with candles of the ‘Mothers of Manipur’, night and day, even as the entire civil society, sat on fasts in solidarity with Sharmila. The mothers have been a rock in the protracted struggle against AFSPA. And it is they who shook the national conscience yet again, and with such amazing power and raw force, on July 15, 2004, outside the Kangla Fort in Imphal, then the Assam Rifle headquarters.

On that historic day, 12 of the mothers stripped themselves totally naked outside the Fort with banners saying: ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ and ‘Indian Army Take Our Flesh’. They were protesting the murder of of Manorama Thangjam, 32, who was picked up by the men of Assam Rifles four days earlier, and then, assaulted and killed most brutally.

Manorama’s bullet-riddled body was later discovered near a paddy field. There were gun shots on her private parts and thighs — clearly, with an intent to camouflage the sexual assault. This was the height of injustice and impunity, and this was simply unacceptable anymore. That is why, the mothers stripped themselves naked outside the Assam Rifles headquarters.

This reporter visited the poor home of Manorama surrounded by dense foliage outside East Imphal in November, 2015. Her mother was still heart-broken, remembering how she was picked up by the soldiers with such brute force, and for no reason whatsoever. That nightmare, as a dark and cruel memory of a night of terror, continues to haunt the Manipuri mothers till this day.

And, yet, AFSPA remains. And so does the nightmare.