AFSPA (1958) And Manipur’s Iron-lady Irom Sharmila Chanu

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by H. Bhuban Singh
Smt. Sonia Gandhi, the de-facto ruler of Republic of India, had come to Imphal on 12 Nov 2010 and left on the same day. Our Iron-Lady Sharmila Chanu, who had been fasting for the last decade, has openly announced that she would not meet the ruler of India, even when approached. Instead, the Iron-Lady of Manipur has announced her decision to donate rupees one lakh to the Narmada Bachao Andalon demonstrators. Why is our Iron-Lady so angry?

2. To answer this question, we need to go back to a little bit of recent history of happenings in Manipur. Almost exactly ten years back on a winter morning like now, about a dozen passengers were waiting for bus/ buses at a bus-stand opposite Tulihal aerodrome. Since the main Highway to/from Moirang or Kumbi or Churchandpur runs on an embankment, the waiting-shed of passengers was built on the bottom of the embankment, almost near the drain. Knowing that Defence personnel would be travelling on this highway, a few well-armed insurgents laid on their bellies hidden from convoys of vehicles. Sure enough, convoys arrived partly hidden by morning fog.

3. On a signal given by the leader of the insurgent group, automatic weapons rained bullets on the convoy. The lead vehicles and Defence personnel in those vehicles suffered serious, fatal and other forms of injury. The insurgents disappeared immediately after. When the main body and the rear escort of the Military or Para- Military convoy reached the incident site and saw the dead bodies of their comrades, naturally their brain lost reasoning-power and bullets from AK-Rifles and LMG ( Light Machine Guns) rained on the innocent passengers. About a dozen including women and children died on the spot instantly. I am now wondering, if the Tulihal Airport killing fell on a “Ningol Chakouba” day. If so, it was the darkest and most gloomy festival of “Chakouba”. To add salt to the wounded, the State Government of the day in Manipur, simply licked the wounds by visiting the dead in the hospital mortuary and paid lip service to the wounded in hospitals. Irom Chanu Sharmila resolutely decided to go on fast till the culprits were punished. This could not be accomplished, till now.

4. The main reason for repeated happening of such brutal incidents is the protection or immunity provided to army and other para-military forces to killing of innocent civilians as authorized by Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 ( Assam and Manipur ) . Paras 1 & 2 are mere introductory things and as such, are not being reproduced. The main and relevant provisions of AFSPA 1958 are reproduced below, for kind information of general public:-

(a) Para 3. Power to declare Disturbed Area
Any Governor of the State or Administration of the State or of that Union Territory or Central Government, in either case, is of the opinion that the whole or any part of such State or UT, as the case may be, is in such disturbed or dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of civil power is necessary, the Governor of the state or the Administration of that state or Central Government, as the case may be, may by notification in Official Gazette declare the whole or such part of the such State or Union territory to be declared disturbed area.

(b) Para 4. Special powers of the Armed Forces
Any Commanding Officer, Warrant Officer, Non-Commissioned Officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the Armed Forces may, in a disturbed area :-

(i) if he is of the opinion that it is necessary to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving due warning, as he may consider, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being, in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly or more persons or the carrying of weapons, arms, ammunition or explosive substances.

(ii) if he is of the opinion that it is necessary so to do destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter from which armed attacks are made or are used as training camp for armed volunteers or utilized as a hide-out by armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence.

(iii) Arrest without warrant, any person who have committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest.

(iv) enter or search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover any person believe to be wrongfully restrained or confined or any properly reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substance believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such force as may be necessary.

(c) Arrested person to be made over to the police:-
Any person arrested or taken into custody under this Act shall be made over to the Officer-in-charge of the nearest Police station with the least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest.

(d) Protection of person under the Act:-
No prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central government against any person in respect anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by the Act.

5. Drawbacks of AFSPA (Assam and Manipur) 1958
Para 4 of AFSPA 1958 or Para 4(b) of this article is the inhuman article which states that:-
“Any Commanding Officer, Warrant Officer, Non-Commissioned Officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the Armed Forces may in a disturbed area ……………….. for the maintenance of public order ……………………… fire upon or otherwise use force even to the causing of death ………………….. or the carrying of weapons, arms, ammunition or explosive substances.

6. A Lance Naik with one ‘Vee’ on his sleeves is a Non-Commissioned Officer. Normally, a good and dutiful Jawan who joins Defence services at the age of eighteen becomes a Lance Naik after about four to five years of service, when his personal age is about twenty four. During Battle Innoculation Training of young officers and young jawans with the firing of blank rounds mainly, but interspread with a few live rounds (which was told before the Battle Inoculation Drill), in order to ensure seriousness of training, a few casualties like a stray bullet ripping of the tender flesh of the hip of young officer/young jawan does happen, if one is careless. So, it is always the immature youngsters, who misbehave during training. The same immature habit gets repeated when the same immature NCO leads a squad of raiders. This is the drawback of AFSPA (1958).

7. Recommendations
(a) Therefore, para 4 of AFSPA, 1958 needs to be modified to say “an NCO of Naik’s rank and above”, because jawans normally become Naik after doing service for about ten years and become mature and above all , have families and thus have compassion, love and affection.

(b) Justice Jeevan Reddys Commission’s Report on ASPFA (1958) had recommended that though the security of India was and is still our topmost priority, this Draconian law must be modified. In other words, it should be in conformity with Indian history, culture and ethos, above all paying due acknowledgement to human lives as enshrine in Article 21 of the Constitution of India on “Protection of life and personal liberty”. I suggest and submit that all Army Officers, JCOs and NCOs may please read Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

(c) Our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, one of our best Prime Ministers so far, should not imitate our former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who, when requested by his Private Secretary to decide ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on pending files, blurted out “ My dear boy , you should know that ‘no decision’ is also ‘a decision’ ”. I sincerely request Government of India meaning the Prime Minister should decide and do not copy Narasimha Rao’s famous statement of ‘no-decision’ was also a‘decision’ and amend AFSPA (1958) soonest to make it more humane and above all civilized. I also humbly suggest our H’ble Prime Minister and H’ble Home Minister to read again Article 21 of the Constitution of India and amend AFSPA 1958.

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