The BJP termed the Congress Manifesto anti-national for committing to review the AFSPA, but citizens of the ‘Disturbed Areas’ have long been waiting for a reform
- The Congress Manifesto carried a point where is commits to reviewing the AFSPA and initate dialogue in J&K if it comes into power.
- The BJP led by PM ridiculed the Congress criticizing the manifesto as a for a document of lies and anti-national
- The AFSPA has been in force in the J&K for close two three decades since 1990, and has been criticized by activists and human rights organizations
- Activists and people of J&K have been urging a review of the act, which right not is applicable in all 22 districts of the state
When the challenger released its election pledge, the realpolitik champion came out to tar the promises. Congress released its 55-page manifesto on titled ‘We will deliver’, focusing on wealth creation, welfare and liberal approach.
The manifesto carries big promises aiming to aid the poor, and halve the unemployment rate in a five-year term. It aims to review controversial policies and resolve conflicts plaguing multiple regions of the country, through inclusion and ‘dialogue’. You can read the manifesto here.
The Manifesto’s take on J&K
The Congress manifesto, on the J&K issue, stated that it will initiate dialogue with the people of the valley which has an increasing separatist population today. It advocated ending infiltration by strengthening borders with increased personnel and reducing armed forces presence in towns.
Point no. 4 for its page on Jammu & Kashmir states – The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Disturbed Areas Act in J&K will be reviewed. Suitable changes will be made in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights.
The ruling party called it unimplementable and… anti-national
Congress has promised to weaken AFSPA in their Manifesto.
I want to ask Congress President Rahul Gandhi, do you want to demoralize our forces and their personnel with such a disgraceful policy? pic.twitter.com/CgCIRFssUE
— Chowkidar Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 2, 2019
Ruling party BJP came out in utter disgust to criticize Congress’ point to review AFSPA and the Disturbed Areas Act. BJP leaders rebuked the Congress party saying it was a unimplementable, anti-national and an insult to the army, and branded it as ‘Made in Pakistan’.
Congress wants to dilute the AFSPA, limit powers of a District Magistrate and remove Sedition law. – YouTube https://t.co/wNA5yLUDy1
— Chowkidar Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) April 3, 2019
Prime Minister Narendra Modi ridiculed the congress for thinking of reviewing AFSPA – which protects the security forces from the terrorists. BJP Party President Amit Shah, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley joined in.
If the Congress has its way, the powers of the army to protect India will be severely curtailed and those disrespecting the Constitution of India would have a free run!
Appalling conduct from a party that has ruled India for years! pic.twitter.com/qOdDWJqYcb
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 3, 2019
But AFSPA does need a review
History of the Act
The law bears its genesis from ‘The Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942’ which was brought by the British on 15 August 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement. Modeled on similar lines, ordinances were brought into force by the central government during the Partition in 1947 to deal with internal security.
What AFSPA does is give special discretionary powers to armed forces in disturbed areas under the ‘Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976’. In an area declared “disturbed”, the act gives armed forces personnel legal immunity for their actions.
The first case of implementation after independence was in the Naga Hills, then part of Assam on 11 September 1958. Since then the act spread to other states in the Northeast including parts of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Punjab and Chandigarh bore witness to AFSPA between 1983 and 1997.
In the case of J&K, an act passed in 1990 and has been in force and unchanged ever since.
The Acts have come under heavy criticism for alleged human rights violations
The act has been repeatedly questioned by the UN Human Rights Committee since 1991 on its validity and constitutionality. In 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay asked India to repeal the AFSPA, terming the law as ‘dated and colonial-era’. UNHRC repeated the stand in 2012, saying it had no place in Indian democracy. AFSPA has been held in violation of International Law by a number of UN treaty bodies.
The Human Rights Watch has described the act as “tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination”. Its South Asian Documentation Centre has argued that the governments’ call for increased force is part of the problem in the regions.
A report by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis pointed out that residents believed that the provision for immunity makes security forces act more brutally.
The ‘Malom Massacre’ in 2000, where ten civilians were shot while waiting at a bus stop by the Assam Rifles was under the protection of AFSPA.
Amnesty International and the HRW have condemned human rights abuses in Kashmir by police such as ‘extra-judicial executions’, ‘disappearances’, and torture claiming that AFSPA provides impunity for human rights abuses.
High power commissions like Santosh Hegde commission on Manipur encounter deaths, Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission have recommended repeal or review of AFSPA in the past.
Since 1990 AFSPA is in force in all 22 districts of Kashmir
Since 1990, there been no change in AFSPA in J&K. The law states that a disturbed area has to maintain status quo for at least three months. Some of the districts haven’t had a single militancy situation in over 10 years.
Many activists working for peace in J&K like Madhu Kishwar, Ashima Kaul, Ram Jethmalani, Faisal Khan, Ravi Nitesh, Swami Agnivesh, Dr. Sandeep Pandey and others advocate people to people communication and development of new avenues as the only way for peace.
Supreme Court called for review of AFSPA
On 8 July 2016, The Supreme Court of India made a landmark ruling that ended the immunity of the armed forces from prosecution under AFSPA. Then on July 15, 2017 it ordered a CBI probe into 655 encounter deaths in Manipur involving Army, paramilitary forces and police.
The Apex Court then dismissed the Army’s appeal
Over 700 army personnel had sent a petition to the SC objecting to its order of a CBI probe: Supreme court dismissed the application stating:
The lives of civilians killed in encounters in AFSPA-enforced areas are equally important and it is the duty of the Centre to ensure prompt inquiry into such deaths or else courts will order independent probes.
The Youth of Kashmir needs inclusion
The youth in Kashmir has been the main victim of the stringent internal security law. Most of Kashmiri youth brought up in the 90s have experienced a heavily militarized environment. Reports have claimed that the AFSPA has pushed the youth away from the idea of inclusion.
AFSPA is ‘hated’ and perceived as ‘draconian’ by J&K population. The increased number of violent incidents, protests and stone pelting incidents in the valley bear naked the frustrations of Kashmir’s youth which feels subdued and suffocated because of AFSPA.
In 2018, Home Minister Rajnath Singh himself suggested ‘Dialogue’
The government took back 9730 cases against stone pelting youth of Kashmir in 2018.
Home minister Rajnath Singh had said that cases against first-time stone-pelters had been withdrawn as ‘children make mistakes.’ He had said that being ‘right minded’ rather than ‘like minded‘ would help in facilitating a dialogue adding that it was the government’s responsibility to secure the future of the youth.
It is rather ironical that after having advocated dialogue a year back, BJP is now calling Congress’ similar approach a morale buster for the Army.
BJP Patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought ‘Insaniyat, Jhamooriyat and Kashmiriyat’
Former PM and much-loved BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee is deeply revered in the valley for putting politics aside and trying to resolve the issue. He initiated talks with the separatist Hurriyat leaders. Vajpayee had visited Kashmir in April 2003 during his time in the office, to strengthen the dialogue process.
BJP itself wanted to repeal AFSPA in 2014
During the 2014 election campaign, BJP’s Manipur unit tried to win the hearts of the people of the State by pledging to repeal the AFSPA if it comes to power. The claim was made by their then Manipur unit president Chaoba Thounaojam.
Far-fetched maybe, but not Anti-national
2019 Congress Manifesto is a Charter to Weaken India. After reading Congress Manifesto my worst fears have come true. The repeal of S.124A of the IPC, diluting AFSPA & “bail is the rule jail is the exception” for terrorists & hardcore criminals will compromise national security.
— Chowkidar Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) April 2, 2019
In the run up to the elections, campaign speeches are being based on fishing expedition aimed to influence audience from a bully pulpit. India is recklessly treading the thin line between nationalism and ultra-nationalism.
The Congress approach to reviewing AFSPA is a positive step in the seemingly unresolvable J&K tragedy. The act has been in force for almost 30 years with no concrete update or review.
Congress Manifesto affirmed that J&K is a part of India and nothing will be allowed to change the constitutional position.
Then, to advocate a stand of peaceful dialogue in contrast to a redundant regime of prolonged violence and suppression is the rational way in terms of making progress and giving the population of the valley a better life and helping the pro-India sentiment in the region.
There have been growing number of voices throughout the country protesting against AFSPA
With the sensitivity of the situation and continued insurgency, a complete revocation might not be a good idea. But to ensure that citizens of India in J&K (which is a part of India) have the basic fundamental rights intact, the AFSPA sure needs a review.
- AFSPA has been controversial with numerous reports having claimed violations and amplified brutality from the armed forces in immunity of the law
- The Supreme Court had in 2017 ordered a CBI probe into over 600 cases related to the Army in Manipur
- Home Minister Rajnath Singh had advocated a dialogue in the valley last year, on behalf of the central government, in line with Congress’ manifesto pledge
- The three-decade law needs to be reviewed in the J&K valley as it is a big hurdle in advancing talks to resolve the conflict in the region