Life Outside AFSPA
The government of India has once again extended the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the entire state of Nagaland for six more months, till December-end 2019. It cited the existence of killings, looting and extortion as the reason for declaring the state as a “disturbed area.” But when was the last time this draconian law was not imposed on the state? It has been there for decades, much before it received statehood and it may continue for many more decades because there is no sign of repealing from the central government despite demands from all quarters to revoke it.
The fact that AFSPA is not withdrawn even after all the insurgency groups signed ceasefire with the Indian government to engage in peace talks in the hope of ending the Indo-Naga political issue, once and for all paints a grim picture for the future. It has been continuing even after the NSCN-IM and the government of India signed the “historic” peace accord, a framework agreement for Naga peace, on August 3, 2015. One small step that the government could have taken to earn the trust of the people and to send out a message that it is seriously working to solve the Naga issue is by retracting this Act which has caused irreparable mistrust between the armed forces and the civilians.
Mistrust is inevitable under AFSPA because commissioned officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces have been given the power to shoot or use force against any person in a ‘disturbed area’. It acts in contravention of any law, even to the extent of causing death. The armed forces can also enter and search the premises of any suspect and arrest any person without warrant on mere suspicion. Dozens of cases have been lodged against army personnel posted in disturbed areas for alleged extra-judicial killing, harassment and assaults against women but the immunity they enjoy under this Act obstructs fair investigation.
This draconian law has caused a fear psychosis among the citizens because men in uniform, who helped you just a few minutes back, can forcefully enter your house a few minutes later and carry out search operation in the presence of your family members, including children. A few incidents of Indian army searching the homes of ordinary citizens have been reported in Nagaland in the last few months. It may be a “normal search” for the security personnel but doing so without prior information can instil fear in the minds of the citizens, especially children. Such acts do not help in building trust after all the bloodshed and terror Nagas have experienced in the past.
Looking at the last few years, there has been no major violent clash between the insurgency groups and the Indian army in Nagaland that justifies the extension of AFSPA in the state. This absence of such clash is due to the fact that both parties respect the ceasefire ground rules and the people of the state want to live in peace. If the Indian government repose trust and confidence in the people at this juncture by repealing the Act, it can have a rippling positive effect. Let Nagas experience life outside AFSPA.