AFSPA to Stay

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The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, which has always been a contentious issue in both the Northeast and Kashmir, it does seem is not about to go, despite so much protest against it in both the Northeast and Kashmir. In Manipur, a gutsy lady, Irom Sharmila, has been on a fast for more than 14 years to demand its repeal. In Kashmir, extended explosions of street violence have been common challenging it. Elsewhere in the Northeast, although protests have not been as pronounced, there are not many who do not resent it. This fact was more than adequately established by a commission of inquiry headed by retired justice, Jeevan Reddy, constituted by the then Manmohan Singh led UPA government in the wake of widespread protests in Manipur following the rape and murder in custody of Thangjam Manorama by a unit of the Assam Rifles. The committee was given the mandate of suggesting ways to humanise the AFSPA and it had submitted its report in 2005. In it, the committee had suggested scrapping the AFSPA after transferring some of its features to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, among others making those empowered by it accountable to the civil legal redressal mechanism. Because of strong objections to the suggestions by the military lobby, the recommendations by the committee were not only were not taken, but the report itself was shelved without even being tabled in Parliament. And now, according to a news report in a reputed financial daily from New Delhi, reproduced in the IFP today, it does seem the new BJP led NDA government has in no uncertain terms said the AFSPA will not be repealed. Not only this, the government has also, as if to underscore its resolve, made known its intent to dig out the Jeevan Reddy report from the government`™s archives, and officially and emphatically reject it.

So much for the state BJP`™s loud vaunts all this while that it would have the hated legislation repealed by the Central government. The new turn of events would indeed have taken the wind out of the sails of the state BJP, which does not currently have even a single MLA in this Assembly, but with undisguised show optimism has begun its election campaign aggressively for the next Assembly elections two years hence. But leave aside the fortunes of the state BJP, there are other serious concerns development should once again bring to the fore. What for instance would now be the fate of Irom Sharmila? Is she now destined to remain a prisoner of conscience for the rest of her life? Is her struggle coming to naught? One thing is certain. She is unlikely to back out just as it is unlikely others fighting the act would not either. In many ways what this development forebodes is, uncertainty and conflict will remain the destiny of the region for many more time, and that there is still no light visible at the end of the long and dark tunnel it has been trying to negotiate.

The Central government`™s decision is unlikely to find much opposition in the country or the rest of the world either. In the rest of the country outside of the Northeast and Kashmir, AFSPA, is too vague and remote, therefore seldom recalled amongst the ordinary citizenry, as the Act is not their daily experience and the fear of it more akin to fiction than reality. In the rest of the world, especially the West, AFSPA continuance will not move consciences as it ought to have, for their own societies are becoming radicalised beyond imagination in the wake of the violence and threats of Islamic fundamentalists. Draconian laws are becoming their realities too, and this would have to a great extent driven even the most conscientious amongst them into increasing insignificance. As it is, their own senses of outrage at that the compromises of democratic norms and values in their own countries are becoming weaker or else are beginning to be lulled into silence. The only verdict we can be courageous enough to give at this juncture then is, uncertain times are ahead.

Pradip Phanjoubam

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