Nathan Fulgado Friday, 31 July 2020

AFSPA and turmoil in the North East

Nathan Fulgado
Friday, 31 July 2020

AFSPA and turmoil in the North East

In 1958, the Indian government enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the north-eastern states of Assam and Manipur, to combat the insurgency taking place there for over six years, after the boycotting of the general elections of 1952. According to the Constitution, a state of emergency can be declared if; local authorities are unable to handle the local unrest, deployment of security forces could lead to a rise in unrest, or if the unrest is too large for the local police and law enforcement to control. The situation in Assam and Manipur ticked all the boxes and hence, Assam became the first state where AFSPA was enacted. According to the Act, the armed forces were given the complete freedom to; arrest an individual without a warrant, fire bullets at any individual or group disturbing public order, enter homes without warrants to conduct searches, stop vehicles and legal immunity to officers for their actions. The powers given to the armed forces by the draconian act, transformed the two sister states from beautiful states with luscious greenery and tea plantations to a dystopian society controlled by the Indian army. The powers granted to them by the act led to the obvious abuse of powers by the Indian Army, such as the rape of the women and children, brutal encounters of unarmed citizens etc. The human rights violations in the north-east grabbed the attention of the United Nations, who voiced their displeasure and disgust at the Act, calling for its repeal. Protests against the Act proved to be fruitless, until one horrific incident caught the attention of the entire country. Thirty women walked the streets of Imphal naked, and held up a banner outside the Assam Rifles headquarters, which said, ‘The Indian Army Rapes Us.’ This was to condemn the killing of Thangjam Manorama, who was tortured, raped and killed. The involvement of the Assam Rifles was suspected, however later investigations proved that she was killed by the Indian paramilitary unit. The other second act of defiance as a protest against the AFSPA was Irom Sharmila’s 16-year hunger strike. The Iron Lady of India was arrested multiple times on the charge of attempted suicide, and was administered nasogastric intubation, i.e., being fed through her nose, to keep her alive while she was under arrest.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been described as a draconian law, an undemocratic one, which is hated by the one’s affected by it the most. While the act has been withdrawn from certain districts in Arunachal Pradesh and all of Meghalaya, majority of the districts in the north-eastern states of India are still suffering from the unjust Act. There has been no proposal to repeal the act from the states of Manipur and Nagaland as insurgency has reportedly been increasing. The Naga insurgents have a multitude of tricks up their sleeve but the most terrifying one is the recruitment of child soldiers. The situation in the affected states is akin to the US Army’s efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. With IED (improvised explosive device) related deaths, army raids and ambushes have created a war-like environment in the north east, and the local government has even considered the use of drones for surveillance and maybe even drone strikes. Amidst the conflict between the Indian Army and the insurgents, unarmed civilians are caught in the crossfire more times than often. Since 1979, over 40,000 civilians have been killed in the north east. The insurgency in the north east has even spilled over to Bhutan, as separatist groups set up camps in Bhutan to avoid the firepower of the Indian Army. This resulted in the Royal Army of Bhutan to take action against the insurgent forces and drive them past the border.

The turmoil in the north east has reduced quite a bit, but not drastically. States like Meghalaya and Tripura are free of any violence related to insurgency, but Assam, Manipur and Nagaland are still at dire straits with the Indian Army. The conflict there is the culmination of a fight that these states have been fighting since independence, the fight for separation from the Indian subcontinent. For far too long the central government has been ignorant towards the plight of the residents of the north-eastern states, in matters of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, food scarcity and the latest addition to the long list of complaints, the detention camps set up there for alleged illegal immigrants, which includes those who are not included in the NRC. International and domestic corporations plunder the natural resources available there and clear out acres of tribal and forest land. 50+ years of ignorance has finally culminated in separatist movements emerging and taking matters into their own hands. The day that the violence finally comes to an end there, and the citizens can finally breathe in their freedom without being killed by the armed forces seems to be far off in the future, and we are getting closer and closer to seeing an all-out war breaking out in the northeast.