Home >Opinion >Online-views >Root Cause | Repeal AFSPA, regain India

With the month-long United Nations Human Rights Council meeting on in Geneva since 3 March, I couldn’t resist touching upon AFSPA, or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. This is applied in its widest ambit in Manipur and to a lesser extent in several large swathes of north-east India—even in places where conflict is long resolved. An equally belligerent cousin lives with impunity in Jammu and Kashmir.

As with any reference to human rights violations, Indian diplomats at the UN will work diligently to protect AFSPA’s application. Last year they dismissed accusations of human rights violations as the imagination of fevered non-governmental organizations. This year will be no different. Besides denials there will be, if the occasion demands, downplaying of conflicts on the lines of “disturbances of internal order which necessitates the presence of the military", as a government committee once put it.

Such application of professional diplomacy shields AFSPA, which is both legal prophylactic and legally mandated national shame.

Among other things, AFSPA provides India’s Armed Forces and operational adjuncts such as Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles both immunity and impunity in areas that the Act is enforced, to kill at will anyone even on the merest suspicion of breaching law and order, of being a rebel sympathizer. This writ extends to “(A)ny commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces…in a disturbed area…"

AFSPA derivatives have over the decades led to gross abuse of power in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and elsewhere, especially with non-combatants—written off as collateral damage in the greater interest of the nation.

Ironically, this aspect, more than any other, has triggered arguably the greatest erosion of national integrity or thoughts of belonging with India. What a member of Parliament from Manipur termed a “lawless law" during its birth in 1958 has emerged as a symbol by which India brutalizes the very people it so dearly claims as its own.

Several government efforts, including the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee in 2005 and the Administrative Reforms Commission in 2007 have recommended the repeal of AFSPA. More recently, the Justice Santosh Hegde Commission appointed by the Supreme Court suggested its critical review. These and several other endeavours have over the years pointed to the existence of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the National Security Act, specific constitutional provisions and several legalities enacted by various state assemblies, as providing the strongest application of the law and order machinery and intervention by the Armed Forces—should this be required—to minimize conflict and maintain peace.

Meghalaya’s former governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary, who was earlier the director of the National Security Guard and director general of the Border Security Force, famously declared at a conference in 2010, in Shillong: “We cannot contain insurgency-related violence by alienating the citizens. We can do so more effectively by involving them… I do not subscribe to the view that we need to continue fighting insurgency and terrorism with the help of AFSPA."

“If we do not have the Army Act, inconvenience caused to the public will be less," director general of police of Manipur, M.K. Das, remarked to mediapersons in end-November 2013, in Imphal, a day before demitting office. He stressed that the army or AFSPA should not be employed for an “internal matter"; the army should be used “only for external aggression".

The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government has repeatedly ignored such advice. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh backed down on his promise to replace AFSPA with a more “humane" law—a step that would have assuaged both public anger and the overstated insecurity of the army in such matters. Singh and his colleagues reneged on the one big, dramatic gesture that would have helped to erase several emotional scars that are built on real scars and still-festering wounds.

As I have earlier written in this column, AFSPA has never stopped rebellion. It has instead bred resentment against India by protecting prejudices and atrocities. Recent reverses for several key insurgencies in the North-East have not happened on account of AFSPA, but a combination of effective policing and coordinated combat operations. Effective and ongoing Indian diplomacy and changing political realities in countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar have made regimes there less inclined to harbour anti-India rebels. There is also the creeping realization that active peacemaking, governance, development and ethno-regional respect are the surest guarantors of India’s internal security.

My suggestion to the next government: Repeal AFSPA, regain India.

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business. Respond to this column at

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our App Now!!

Edit Profile
My ReadsRedeem a Gift CardLogout