Following the three-month-long unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, the issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act-1958 has come to the surface again. While the Act is the topic of hot debate at the Centre, hitting the headlines of the major national dailies, and keeping the intelligentsia pensive, it is needful to have a close look into the reality. AFSPA is no doubt a draconian law. It is a weapon to fight militants in disturbed areas. Unfortunately, a few, if not all soldiers, terrorize innocent civilians by indulging in fake encounters, custodial killings, rape, rights abuse, etc. In fact, many innocent lives have been lost in the campaign which exacerbates the volatile situation. And half a century of its imposition however does not improve the situation in the area.
In this light, the question of withdrawal or perpetuation of the Act from J&K and North-east has to be seen in their respective contexts. For instance, in Manipur, AFSPA was repealed two years ago in greater Imphal area following the visit of PM Manmohan Singh. Since then, as was expected, the frequency of bombing, kidnapping for ransom, extortion and the likes has increased doubly, if not triply. Crowded public places, residents of MLAs, business establishments and even security outposts in the repealed areas are equal victims of the militant bombings.
While in the hills, where the Act is in force, except few occasions of factional gunfights, the situation is relatively peaceful, thanks to the various underground groups entering into Ceasefire and Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the Govt.
Considering this, it is not imprudent to reimpose the AFSPA in greater Imphal area as it used to be. The capital city of Manipur has become the fertile ground for the militants. The “license to kill’’ must go, but the license to interrogate, detained or arrest of the suspicious should remain.
Secondly, instead of making brouhaha over the Act, it is to be considered why it is imposed in the first place. In a state where the number of underground factions are multiplying by the day, and the incidents of extortion, looting, kidnapping, etc. are the order of the day, repealing of the Act will give the much-needed liberty to thrive. The situation in Imphal is a case in point.
However, in both the cases of either removal or furthering the imposition, it is the civilians who suffer the most. Indeed the people of Manipur are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Thirdly, the root cause of all problems in Manipur is political and ethnic. It is to be noted that the three communities—Kuki, Naga and Meitei who were never under a single administrative unit are put together either by default or by design. In such a situation, communal harmony, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, etc. were neither a thing of the past, nor of the present and is not going to be in future as long as the three ‘very different’ communities live under a single political entity called—state.
What matters more in this context is not the size of the territory, but the life of the people. In other words, they have to be separated by clear national boundaries. They are living in their own ancestral land and each community has every right to live separately. They are longing for their glorious past where they were a friendly neighbor. This is the only panacea. Separation is desirable and inevitable. The people need an everlasting remedy, not a pain-killer.