In India, there are many laws that are a bit confusing and require debates to understand them better. For example, a woman having extra marital affair with another guy is not a criminal. But the guy – he will be jailed. One such law that has been under lots of debates is the AFSPA, or the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1942. Yes, the law came into existence in 1942 by the then British government in India by Lord Linlithgow. The reason why this act was introduced is Mahatma Gandhi. When Mahatma Gandhi led the Quit India movement, Linlithgow faced severe many protests all over the country. To suppress the protests, the AFSPA was brought. Later on, after Indian independence, the law was restructured and added in the Indian constitution. This law can be misunderstood easily.
Need for AFSPA in India:
The political successor of Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was ironically the reason why AFSPA was legally approved by the Indian constitution. When Nagaland started to put the separate nation call, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not feel very pleased about it. That is when AFSPA set it foot in independent India. Thousands of military men were sent inside Nagaland to “restore peace”. To prevent any judicial problems the opposition parties may create, the AFSPA was passed at the Parliament at 1961 by the then Indian government.
Is AFSPA still in India?
Unfortunately, yes. This act will be in effect as long as the state is deemed “disturbed”. At present states are under AFSPA.
- Arunachal Pradesh (a few areas)
- Manipur (not at Imphal)
- Meghalaya (a few areas)
- Jammu and Kashmir.
What is AFSPA?
The Armed Forces special powers act as the name itself says, it is a law that gives additional powers.
Armed Forces – law enforcement people like the Army or Central reserve police force
Special powers – They have powers already, we are giving them more powers
Act – This will be allowed through the law.
In short, the AFSPA is a law that gives the army more powers to use in an area that has been declared as “disturbed”. A disturbed area is anything where the chance of a riot or a separatist movement is very high. For example, when the Khalistan movement was brought down and the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indra Gandhi was shot dead, Punjab was facing many illegal activities. To control that, the police were not able. So, the army was sent into the state with “some additional powers” to bring the situation under control. This process of allowing the army to maintain peace in a disturbed area was declared legal by the AFSPA.
What is so interesting about AFSPA?
Let us put forth two instances where the AFSPA was questioned very badly by opposition political parties and the common people.
The Khalistan movement. A separatist movement claimed to get a country separate from India. To protect the integrity of the country, the then government declared the state of Punjab as a disturbed region. In 2012, the AFSPA was taken back from Punja.
The nation went confused when an image went viral in social media.
The person in the photo was tied by the armed forces in front of the jeep. The army justified the act saying it is to prevent people from throwing stones on them. While the entire country was shocked to see an act like that, the result was something totally different. The person responsible for this act, Major Leetul Gogoi, actually received the honourable Chief of Army Staff’s commendation card. Why the Major was not brought under the law?
Read it below.
What makes the AFSPA special?
The AFSPA act gives lots of freedom and power to the army person who is above the rank of Havildar.
- Shoot a person doing illegal things after warning
- Destroy suspicious places like hiding place of criminals
- No search warrant is required to search the house or a person
- No arrest warrant required to arrest a person who is alleged to be a person involving in criminal activities
The main highlight of this Act is that, the armed personnel if convicted with any crime, is totally safe from the law. This means that, the Major Gogoi, who tied a young man in front of a jeep and took him across the area, is totally safe from Indian judiciary system, because Jammu and Kashmir is a disturbed region. This is the specialty of the AFSPA.
Famous protests against the AFSPA:
Whenever anyone says AFSPA, the first name that comes to an Indian’s mind is Irom Sharmila. Irom Sharmila lost 10 people from her state to a surprise military action by the Indian Army. The 10 people were said to be waiting for a bus at a place named Malom. She went on a hunger strike for 16 years in her state demanding justice for her state. The army battalion deployed at that time were the Assam Rifles and they were not bothered with any questions because Assam was a disturbed region.
( Also Read – Self Defence For Women )
Every single day we will see in NEWS that terrorists along with civilians are being killed in encounter in Jammu and Kashmir. Though the Indian Army tries its best to avoid any intentional gun shots at civilians, there are still innocent people dying in Jammu and Kashmir every day. Though it will be easy to trace which regiment is responsible for the death, it will be useless because Jammu and Kashmir is a disturbed region. Every day we can see protests against AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir but no investigation will follow.
Reason to support AFSPA:
The patriotism and the discipline of the Indian army are far away from questions. They are the people protecting us against threats that come from both outside the country and inside the country such as Naxalites and Maoists. Some civilians get fooled by the false propaganda of anti-national elements like terrorist groups and they could help them. If the army people have to follow protocol in those areas and get the court’s approval before arresting or anyone suspicious, India will be history because of the average speed at which cases gets resolved at Indian courts.
Reason to remove AFSPA:
Any coin has two sides. Army brutality is very common in any army controlled region – at any part of the world and India is no exception. If a mistake occurred due to a soldier in a region under AFSPA, a where will the victim go and complain? Do we really expect a civilian to file a complaint against a man who is authorized by the government to use a gun? Even if he has the guts to give a complaint, AFSPA will make it difficult for the victim to get justice.
What should be done for AFSPA:
The AFSPA is an act written and amended many years ago. Time has come for the Indian government to amend the act for the better welfare of the country people. Though the Indian army needs a few special powers allowed by the law to carry out important operations in a few areas, it will be better if it can be streamlined. Our indefinite amount of love and patriotism towards the Indian army should not be the reason a few corrupt soldiers misuse the powers.
Though the AFSPA was responsible for the successful defence against the Khalistan movement and many other illegal activities, time has come to review the act and make changes to it. We cannot pass judgement if the AFSPA is good or not just by sitting in our room and relaxing in our sofa. We have to think from the point of view of a soldier who is thousands of kilometres away from his/her family. We should also think from the point of view of a innocent child who lost his/her dad who went to buy some snacks for him just because he is living in a “disturbed” area. Time has come to refine the law to protect the civilians. As the saying goes “thousands of criminals can escape – but not even one single innocent should be affected”.