Following the brutal rape and subsequent death of a 23 year old para medical student in Delhi in December 2012, there has been an outpouring not just of grief but also of rage and anger, of questions being raised and actions demanded with regard to the safety of women and for action who commit crimes of sexual violence against women. The earlier media reportage on the case saw media campaigns focusing on what steps various agencies including the Government must take up to ensure that women are safe and protected. There were debates and discussions both in print as well as visual news media where action was called for. National media houses took up social campaigns with NGOs working with women survivor groups. When the Justice Verma came out with its recommendations, there were careful scrutiny of what was included and what was not. Missing from all the media din was the area of sexual rights of women including children being violated by security personnel under various laws of the country. Except for a few odd voices that pointed that the Armed Forces Special Power’s Act (AFSPA) gave impunity to security personnel to have any excesses committed against women to go unpunished under a court of law, there were no mainstream voices. There were no news panel discussions and certainly no self important national media celebrities willing to talk on the Act and what it means for women and children to live under its shadow.
Following this major media amnesia of course was the statement of the Finance Minister P Chidambaram on how the Army’s strong stand against any amendment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was coming in the way of the act becoming ‘more humane’ follows other similar statements made over a period of time. Chidambaram becoming a ‘dove’ in contrast to his earlier ‘hawkish’ stand on the Act while he was the Home Minister is in line with the statement of various other top officials in the Government who take a strict stand against AFSPA during their tenure and later put the blame on the armed forces not agreeing to look into the Act. Earlier on, we have had former top ranking Army officers, retired Intelligence officials and former bureaucrats toeing the ‘more humane law’ line. Never have we had serving officials speaking favorably about repealing the Act. And what the Government line of thinking stand on, is what the National media stands, understand and portray.
More often than not, various Acts and laws that give leeway for security personnel including the impunity of the AFSPA are anathema to a majority of the ‘national mainstream papers’ who prefer mostly to buy nationalist fervor over anything else that is contrary. This fervor is seen best when anything to do with Pakistan goes into the public domain. The recent media tizz over the alleged cases of beheading of Indian troops by Pakistan forces was a case in point with everybody baying for blood. Only a few voices stood out in the din, voices that are too little too few. The same is with regard to AFSPA and the violations that happen under its purview. Apart from a few journalists who are in a total minority and who are considered as ‘activist journalists’ as compared to celebrity journalists and hence popular, there are not too many willing to keep a constant engagement with the Act. This then means that these media outlets also build into the veil of silence about the atrocities that are being committed in the name of ‘National Security.’
What the people of places where the AFSPA is imposed feel about being second rate citizens are therefore left to ferment. What the nationalists are happily ignorant about is the fact that the nation that they so believe needs to be empowered by protecting the Armed forces under the Act, is playing games of citizenship exclusion and ‘othering’. The nation’s Constitution’s Preamble starts out by saying that every citizen is equal before law. When the nation’s army gets cover from treating a certain section of people living in certain regions as equal to the rest, it will strike at the core root of nation building. And this needs some serious consideration.