23 July 2014
The state of Manipur was in state of furore and shambled with protests from every corner following the alleged rape and murder of Manorma in 2004. A dozen soldiers had busted into her house on a night in July and allegedly raped and tortured her. All attempts made by her brother and mother were only futile with brother badly beaten and mother knocked unconscious. An hour later she was taken outside only to be found dead, three miles away, the next morning. The police claimed that she was an insurgent who was shot while she tried to escape.
But the medical examiner had an entirely different story to tell. The examiner determined that she had been shot from close range while lying down, that stains on her dress were that of semen but that multiple gunshots to her vagina made any determination of rape impossible.
In another incident, a group of university students entered a railway compartment at Kokrajhar in Assam in the year 2005, unaware of their fate and the fact that that armed security persons from Haryana were travelling in it. The jawans closed the doors of the compartment and tried to molest the students. The Bodo student Union, aroused by their shouts stopped the train and tried to take action on the jawans. The police opened fire on them and four students died.
And there is an unending list of grave instances of bestiality, inhumanity and barbarity by the men in uniform.
However, the tragedy doesn’t end here. It only begins. Even after so many years of multifarious acts of misuse of power by the armed men, there has not been a single arrest. Not one man has even been charged with any crime. Simply no action has even been initiated.
What is even more appalling is the fact that there even wouldn’t be any action till at least a many many more years to come.
The Defense Minister Arun Jaitley has clearly stated a month back that the immunity law would remain in place until peace was secured.
The immunity law is actually the much talked-about Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). AFSPA, by its very nature, gives complete impunity to the armed men regardless of how heinous the crime they might have committed, leaving the victims of armed forces abuse without a remedy. Section 6 of the act establishes that no legal proceeding can be brought against any member of the armed forces acting under the AFSPA, without the permission of the Central Government.
And the stand of the Central Government is distinct from what the Defense Minister had said. Not only this government, but no government in the history of 56 years of the enactment of AFSPA has had the courage to go against it, for, going against it is equivalent to going against the army.
Palaniappan Chidambaram, in the K. Subramanyam Memorial Lecture at the Institute of Defense Studies last year had made transparent the real reasons for the inability to even dilute AFSPA, leave alone its repeal. He had said “We can’t move forward because there is no consensus. The present and former Army Chiefs have taken a strong position that the Act should not be amended (and) do not want the government notification … to be taken back. How does the government … make the AFSPA a more humanitarian law?”
AFSPA, which was only to be enacted for on an experimental basis for six months in the North-East, has continued for more than five decades. Looking from the security point of view also, AFSPA hasn’t achieved much, at least that’s what data reveals. In 1958, the year of introduction of the Act, there was only one “terrorist” group in the North East. Manipur had two groups when the State was brought under the Act in 1980. Today, Manipur has more than twenty such groups, Assam at least fifteen, Meghalaya has more than five. How, then, does the honored Indian Army advocate for AFSPA so aggressively that not even a little dilution is acceptable to them?
And it is not merely the human rights watchdogs or activists or social rights groups or the jholawallahs who opine the repeal of this Act. This isn’t the voice of one Irom Sharmila or the locals who have lived the draconian law themselves. Such viewpoints have forsooth come from the persons who have worked within the system and know the dynamics of the Act and of running the Government.
In 2005, the Jeevan Reddy Commission said that AFSPA should be repealed and the necessary clauses should rather incorporate in other Acts. R. N. Ravi, former head of the Intelligence Bureau for the North East is on record that AFSPA is the biggest obstacle to peace in the region. Former Home Secretary G. K. Pillai has come out openly against the Act. Latest in the list is the Justice Verma Commission set up after the Delhi gang rape. It has stated in unequivocal terms that security persons who rape women should be judged under the same law that applies to the civilians.
But it appears that all these and thousands of other voices are swept under the carpet. It seems that AFSPA is not meant for the security of the citizens, as is intended, but instead, for the security and immunity of the armed personnel. Tens of thousands of Indian troops, deployed to the remote borderlands, with the mission to fight a decades-long armed separatist rebellion have rather waged a separate power war on civilians-the one where powerless, innocent civilians are raped and murdered by the powerful immune security forces.