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Northeast people are not against Indian Army but Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

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Members of Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to review the provisions of the AFSPA with me at Hotel Japfu, Kohima in 2005. Members, Dr. S.B. Nakade, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Marathwada University (left), and senior journalist Sanjoy Hazarika (right) are with me during the Meeting.

By Oken Jeet Sandham

I met the Members of the five-Member Committee headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy (a former judge of the Supreme Court) to review the provisions of the AFSPA in March 2005 at Kohima. The other four Members are Lt. Gen (Retd.) V.R. Raghavan, P.P. Shrivastava, a former special secretary in the Union Home Ministry, Dr. S.B. Nakade, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Marathwada University, and senior journalist Sanjoy Hazarika.

This Committee was constituted by the Dr. Manmohan Singh Government in the wake of rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama allegedly by the Assam Rifles and followed by an unprecedented naked protest by 12 Manipuri women in front of the Western Gate of Kangla Fort, which was occupied by the Assam Rifles, in broad daylight in 2004. In fact, after these incidents, Manipur virtually plunged into chaos and unprecedented crisis. It was at this time that Chief Minister Ibobi Singh had taken unprecedented decision to lift the draconian and controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1958 from the 7 Assembly constituencies in Imphal.

As a quick confidence building measure after sensing that the pride of the people of Manipur was deeply hurt in the wake of the incidents, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had also taken an unprecedented decision to return the Kangla Fort, which had been occupied by the Assam Rifles since India’s Independence in 1947, in 2004 to the people of Manipur.

The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee had submitted its 147-page report on June 6, 2005. The Committee had unambiguously recommended the repeal of the controversial law against which people in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East have been agitating for several years. “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed,” it notes in its recommendations. “The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars”. The report adds that the impression gathered by the Committee during the course of its work is that “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”

Although Dr. Manmohan Singh constituted the five-Member Committee to review the provisions of the AFSPA, the recommendations of them had never been accepted by his Government. Strangely, the present NDA Government headed by Narendra Modi has too declined to accept the recommendations.

I have been telling from the very beginning that the people of Manipur or other Northeast people are not against the Indian Army but the Act. Because the Act simply gives carte blanche to the Indian armed forces in the areas declared as “Disturbed” in the name of assisting the Civil Administration. In all these, they are immune as no prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.

This Act is draconian and simply an anti-democracy. This Act is nothing but a license to kill indiscriminately. This Act also fundamentally conflicts the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. This Act must go and it should no more be used in this modern and civilized world.

We should also be ashamed of what the UN and Amnesty International questioning the AFSPA some years back and they even already asked India to revoke it from the Northeastern States of India saying it had no place in Indian democracy, besides it clearly violates International Law.

The leadership of the country has not realized till now that the AFSPA is anti-democracy and against the very Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.

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