AFSPA: Prescribing Colas For Cold

It cannot get clearer than this. The Principal Seat of the Gauhati High Court with Justice Amitabh Roy and Justice BS Agarwal on the bench, in their August 31, 2010, ruling has clearly stated that the State Government can go ahead and peruse the report submitted by the C Upendra Commission and accordingly take action in the case pertaining to the arrest, ‘˜rape’ and custodial killing of Th Manorama way back in the month of July in 2004.

Though the details and the legal terminologies which encase the Armed Forces Special Powers Act may be Greek to the common people, not lettered with the proceedings of the Court or the language used in legal proceedings, the implication of AFSPA is more than clear to the 25 odd lakh population of the State.

This specifically means that the Gauhati High Court has refused to buy the argument of the Assam Rifles that since their men acted under the legal immunity granted by the said Act, the State Government is not authorized to institute the Judicial Inquiry, much less act on it, and hence the Commission’s report should not be entertained at all. The argument of the Assam Rifles rests on two premises, one on the legal and the other on the successful indoctrination of the idea that human casualties or to put it in a more sophisticated term, made popular by the Indian Army, collateral damages which are inevitable during any CI Ops.

The long years of such indoctrination obviously gave the security personnel a sense of immunity from the laws of the land and the inevitability of the collateral damages came to be understood as the license to shoot indiscriminately and kill indiscriminately, pick up suspected targets and act as the police, judge and executioner, all rolled into one. The timing of the Court’s ruling has also come at the opportune moment, if we take a look at what is happening in the other trouble spot of India, Kashmir.

Ever since the civil unrest started in Kashmir more than two months back, it has snuffed out the lives of a number of youngsters, who are at the most in their late teens. Boys as young as 13 or 14 coming out to the street to engage the security personnel who are armed not only with their guns, but also AFSPA, says something very significant and it is but natural that a debate should start on whether AFSPA is the wrong prescription for the situation in the North East and Kashmir.

The ruling of the Gauhati High Court on August 31 is sure to set a precedent and give a dose of booster shot in the arms of all those who feel they have been wronged by the wrong side of the law under AFSPA. As we have said, the ruling of the Gauhati High Court is clear and we can also predict clearly that the military establishment, maybe backed by the Union Home Ministry, will move the Supreme Court for a hearing of the said case and we can be rest assured that it would consume so much time that the relevance of the issue may lose their sting.

Kashmir is hot right now, Sharmila is still on her fast unto death agitation demanding revocation or repeal of the Act and is set to complete ten years of her fast in November this year and of course seminars and discourses, such as the one which is lined up on September 8 at New Delhi where Parliamentarians, scholars, members of the armed forces and representatives from Indian civil societies will meet to discuss the said Act under the topic, ‘We need to need to break the deadlock in the debate on AFSPA.’

All the points we have mentioned are clear, this much is certain. What is uncertain is, of course, how the Supreme Court will view the judgment passed by the Gauhati High Court. Despite the din and ruckus created over AFSPA and the propaganda that runs along the line that it is not only discriminatory but is a perfect tool to keep the people of the North East under subjugation, through the barrel of the guns, we do understand the spirit of AFSPA. That National integrity is paramount to Delhi is understandable and we leave it to the contending parties to come to a negotiated settlement on the question of whether a group of people or territory should remain within the Indian Union or not.

However while the spirit of AFSPA is understandable, what is unacceptable and will not pass the test of a free and democratic country is the abuse of the said Act. The clear lack of any guilt or remorse on the part of the military officers, who, besides getting trained in warfare, have been taught to be gentlemen and officers, only add to the rabid stand against this Act. The clauses contained in AFSPA harks back to the days of the British Raj, meaning it was intended to keep under control a colonized people and region, and adding to the satanic side of the Act is the very conduct of some security personnel, including officers, who are supposed to lead by example.

Why, even the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court more than three decades back are not adhered to at all. If the directives of the Supreme Court had been taken as the soul or the conscience keeper of the Act, then such a hue and cry against the said Act may not have arisen. We may not have witnessed an Oinam, a Manorama, a Ngaprum Rose, Malom, Heirangoithong, RIMS, Tonsen Lamkhai etc. These instances are but just a fraction of all the cases of excesses committed by the men in uniform that come to mind and Nagaland, too will have many similar tales to tell.

In Manorama’s death, the State Government has at last been given the opportunity to prove its mettle and demonstrate how it can stand up to the mighty Indian military establishment. This is one extremely uneasy and uncertain point in the whole story that is unfolding before our eyes. That a definite date for the Cabinet to meet and discuss the reports of the C Upendra Commission has not yet been set rings out an uncomfortable thought and we hope it is not a precursor of the things to come.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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