Explained: AFSPA and the Northeast

News: The Centre has decided to reduce the area under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland

The act has been withdrawn entirely from 23 districts in Assam; and partially from seven districts in Nagaland, six districts in Manipur, and one district in Assam.

Once the decision is notified in the gazette, AFSPA remains in force in parts of these three states as well as in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

What is the significance of the decision?

AFSPA, has been called draconian as it gives sweeping powers to the armed forces.

The move is expected to help demilitarise the region; it will lift restrictions of movements through check points and frisking of residents.

Why has AFSPA been withdrawn now?

Reduction in insurgency: The move is aided by the fact that around 7,000 militants in the Northeast have surrendered in recent years. Plus, agreements like the 2020 Bodo Accord and the 2021 Karbi-Anglong pact have politically addressed the root causes of regional insurgencies

The killing of 14 people by security forces in a botched anti-militancy operation in Nagaland’s Mon district in 2021, had further  intensified the demand for repeal of AFSPA throughout the Northeast

What are the previous attempts at repeal of AFSPA?

In 2004, the then central government set up a five-member committee under former Supreme Court Justice Jeevan Reddy. It submitted its report in 2005 recommending the repeal of AFSPA, calling it “highly undesirable”, and saying it had become a symbol of oppression.

Subsequently, the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), headed by Veeerapa Moily, endorsed these recommendations.

Why was AFSPA imposed in the NE?

When the Naga nationalist movement kicked off in the 1950s with the setting up of the Naga National Council (NNC)— the predecessor of the NSCN — Assam police forces allegedly used force to suppress the movement.

As an armed movement formed in Nagaland, AFSPA was passed in Parliament, and subsequently imposed on the entire state.

In Manipur, too, it was imposed in 1958 in the three Naga-dominated districts where the NNC was active. It was imposed in the 1960s in the Kuki-Zomi dominated Manipur district, which was under the influence of the Mizo insurgent movement.

As secessionist and nationalist movements started rising in other Northeastern states, AFSPA started being extended and imposed.

What has made AFSPA unpopular among the people?

In Nagaland, 60 years of living under the AFSPA regime has had psychological consequences, trauma and alienation of the people. The use of force and AFSPA furthered the feeling of alienation of the Naga people, solidifying Naga nationalism.

Various incidents of violence and extra-judicial killings have been recorded in the Northeastern states, as AFSPA gives sweeping powers to security forces.

In a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2012, the families of victims of extra-judicial killings alleged 1,528 fake encounters had taken place in the state from May 1979 to May 2012. The Supreme Court set up a commission to scrutinise six of these cases, and the commission found all six to be fake encounters.

What are the issues with the decision?

Application of AFSPA in Assam was far less heavy-handed compared to Manipur and Nagaland. Hence, removing the act from most of Assam was low-hanging fruit.

Whereas the relatively small areas being exempted in Manipur and Nagaland mean most of these two states remain in the shadow of the draconian law.

What is the way forward?

It is a step in the right direction. The Centre should continue on this track and work to repeal AFSPA across all of the Northeast, as this prone-to-abuse law that has its roots in the colonial era has no place in modern India.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

– “Explained: AFSPA and the Northeast” published in The Indian Express on 1st Apr 22.

Helping Northeast” published in Times of India on 31st Mar 22.

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