50 years of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act
11th September 2008: On 22nd May 1958, the Government of India promulgated an ordinance called the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance
to meet the challenges of an extraordinary situation arising out of the assertions of the Naga tribes in the then Naga Hills of Assam and parts of the then North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA). This ordinance was a copy from a similar ordinance promulgated by the colonial British on 15 August 1942 to suppress the uprising of Quit India Movement. It gave extraordinary powers to the members of the armed forces, such as arrest without warrant and shoot to kill on the basis of suspicion. The Parliament subsequently converted this ordinance, which was brought in as a temporary measure, into an Act on 18 August 1958, and the President gave his assent on 11 September 1958.
Thus, the unlashing of state’s violent power, or as some called State terrorism, that began on 22nd May 1958 was retrospectively reaffirmed on that fateful 9/11 as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act began its journey as a permanent instrument to treat the people of North East differently and violently. While the people of Punjab had the taste of the Act very briefly in 1980s, the people of Kashmir have been subjected under the same Act since 1990. But its first and real target, the people of the North East have been reeling under the violence and impunity of the Act continuously for the last 50 years.
While the two MPs from Manipur opposed the Act in the Parliament in 1958 itself, various organizations and individual persons had also challenged the legal and constitutional validity of the Act since the 1980s. However, after sitting over those petitions for almost 15 years, the Supreme Court took up litigation by NPMHR, and after suggesting that the disturbed condition where the Act has been enforced is not due to arm rebellion and that it does not constitute a threat to the national security; it upheld the constitutional validity of the Act in 1997.
The numerous acts of human rights abuses under the Act came into the fore again in the gruesome murder of a young woman, Manorama by the security forces operating under the Act in 2004. The people of Manipur rose up not only against the murder but also against the Act, which was joined by various civil liberty organizations and concerned citizens from across the country and world. Ultimately, the PMO was compelled to institute the Reddy Committee to look into the matter and explore the possibility of substituting the AFSPA with a "more humane" Act. The Committee submitted its report on 6 June 2005 and recommended that the Act be repealed. Similarly the Administrative Reform Committee headed by Veerapan Molly also recommended the Act to be repealed on 25 June 2007. In February 2007 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called upon the Indian Government to ensure an immediate repeal of AFSPA. So far, leave alone repealing the Act, the Government has not even made the Jeevan Committee report public, though the Hindu has already leaked out the report.
Providing lip service to democracy and displaying deep rooted prejudices, many continue to encourage and defend the violence of the Act. As a result the people continue to suffer under it. While the struggle, including that of Sharmila who has been on fast for years, against the Act also continues, it is pertinent for us to reflect on what and why of this Armed Forces Special Powers Act in order to strengthen the struggle against this Act and its politics. Thus, we are organizing a Peace Protest rally from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar on the violence of the Invisible 9/11 at 1 pm on 11th Sept 2008 as a way to remind ourselves of the 50th year of its becoming a law on 11th Sept’ 1958 when the President of India gave his assent. As part of the memorandum we will be delivering 50 coffins addressed to the President of India.
Issued by: AISA, Asha Parivar, The Othermedia, NAPM, Jagrati Mahila Sangathan, INSAF, Reachout, Human Right Alert, JMI Students and FDI