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50 years Of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958

SOMETIMES IN moments of solitude, I can’t help but ponder deep down and often found asking myself the inevitable question. Are we, India as a nation, really independent in the true sense of the word? In spite of attainment of independence way back in 1947, I strongly can’t help but feel we still need to go a long way in becoming an independent nation in its truest sense. There seems to be inequality and discrimination existing everywhere in our nation. I still am groping for answers in the dark as to why our country still continues to be like this even after 62 years of being an independent nation and the largest democracy in the world.

I hail from the Northeast part of India and as a result I have been a witness to firsthand account of Human Rights violations inflicted upon the people of this region for the past 50 years, since the inception of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958. Since I have been a part of this forgotten region and have been exposed to gross violation of human rights inflicted upon an individual. I strongly feel the importance of bringing this issue to the forefront so that painful stories of ripping off an individual’s right to existence are stopped for once and for all.

It has been more than 50 years since the Northeastern Region has been living under the shadows of AFSPA, 1958 (Arm Forces Special Power Act), which was first implemented in the Northeastern states of Assam and Manipur and was later on extended to Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura after the amendment of the Act in 1972.

A grave crime – 50 long years of violation of Human Rights has been perpetrated in the region due to the special powers vested in the Army by the Act. Misuse of power by the security personnel has led to untold violations of an individual’s right to life. Even if Northeast is a ‘˜disturbed area’, there is no justification for the Human Rights abuses being carried out by the military in the region. The Act is unconstitutional and undemocratic. It violates Article 21- Right to Life of the Indian Constitution. The Act violates Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Principles for Protection of All Persons Under any form of Detention.

When an individual is born, he or she is being protected by a basic right – the right to life. It is our birthright, we are born with it (the right to life), no Act or law or organization or militant (insurgency) group or an individual can take that away from an individual. It is above any law and I implore everyone to fearlessly fight for your right to existence irrespective of your caste, creed, gender, religion and race. Nobody has an iota of right to take it away from you and there can never be any justification for such an act.

There is no justification for sacrificing an individual life for a greater good or to protect greater social interest. Each individual’s life is as precious as your life is precious to you. Let us respect and stop playing around with other’s life. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees each individual equality before the law and also equal protection of the laws within the territory of India The AFSPA is in force in specific regions of India, which are considered to be a ‘˜disturbed areas’ namely the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. People from ‘˜the disturbed areas’ are denied equality before the eyes of the law because they are denied

a) Protection of a basic right – right to life,

b) Protection of the criminal procedure code and

c) Privilege to seek judicial redress.

It’s surprising to note that some parts of the country are subjected to a specific act to the extent of empowering the act to violate basic human rights while the rest of the country enjoys protection guaranteed under the constitution. Does it not contradict and suppress the very essence of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution?  Are we, the citizens of India, not concerned about upholding and respecting our own constitution?

According to AFSPA of 1958, security personnel even the rank of Havildar is entrusted with special powers to carry out operations in an area, which is declared disturbed. The power comes in the form of right to shoot to kill any individual to maintain public order, which can be based on suspicion. The objective of the Act might be to maintain public order. However, there have been innumerable incidents of gross misuse of power resulting in human rights violation due to unaccounted power vested in the security personnel by this Act.   As a consequence, the Act, which was meant to aid civil power, has become an instrument of human rights violation and discrimination.

The internal problems, that the various states of North-East are embroiled in, must be addressed politically and not militarily because unaccounted and indiscriminate use of brute force will further alienate the people of North-East and subsequently acts as a catalyst to growth of insurgency in the region. The situation has now become a vicious cycle. To win the faith of the people of North- East in the ability of the government to govern in democratic lines, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act must be repealed and instead we should concentrate on reaching a political solution. In the process state governments should act responsibly and should sincerely endeavor to improve their own system of governance.

For how long can the civilians live under the shadows of militant groups, inefficient state governments and constant violation of human rights by armed forces due to AFSPA? This has to be stopped somewhere and let this be the beginning of an end of violation.

*The article is written by Grace Laikhuram

(Courtesy: Merinews)

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