Last Friday in my Indian Foreign Policy’s class, my professor who belongs to Assam, brought up the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for discussion. She said that the recent killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland was ‘unfortunate’, and called it ‘collateral damage’. She went on to explain that the armed forces are just trained to shoot, they have no time for analysing the situation or for interrogation.
This whole point was unacceptable to me. I just couldn’t accept this and I said that killings of innocent civilians couldn’t be just termed as collateral damage. The people who died had families, they were a part of the society. How could one explain to their families that the people who died were ‘collateral damage’?
AFSPA and its repercussions
So there are a few things that a regular undergraduate student like me can understand on the whole fiasco related to AFSPA and the Northeast:
- The State must recognise that AFSPA has no place in a modern democracy like India in the 21st century. Continuing to enforce draconian laws like AFSPA will only serve to prolong militancy and discontent. To enhance India’s developing democracy, it is past time for the government to abolish this terrible remnant of the past.
- The repeal of AFSPA is required not only to restore the Constitutional order, but also to acknowledge the plight of its victims. Their voices are often unheard, and neither the state nor the mainstream media have focussed on them.
- The most brutally affected region in India in terms of insurgency is the ‘Naxal-belt region’. Why have we not imposed this extraordinary law in that region? Why it has been selectively used for only a few regions? If the paramilitary forces can contain some threat in one region, they can be used the same for another region. Maoist insurgency has done a lot of damage than any other internal rebellion in the country. As our ex-PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh said, “Naxalism is the biggest threat to internal security”.
- The army must be held accountable for the killings under AFSPA.Though many committees had advocated the repeal of AFSPA, like the Jeevan Reddy Committee, no action has ben taken yet. There are 1,528 cases filed in the Supreme Court related to fake encounters, extrajudicial killings under the blanket immunity provided by AFSPA.
- There has been a sharp decrease in incidents related to insurgency in Northeastern states. Many of the rebels are allies of the Central government. Many areas have recorded no insurgency activities. These areas deserve normalcy, and the civilians deserve peace. They have suffered a lot both due to insurgency and also the brunt of this black law. Few states saw the voting turnout higher than the national average. Manipur in 2019 Lok Sabha elections recorded a voter turnout of over 80 per cent which was significantly higher than the national average i.e., 67.1 per cent.
States of the Northeast deserve the same peace and freedom that we enjoy in states like Delhi and Haryana. They are not ‘lesser’ citizens of the country. We talk about Act East policy, about connecting the Northeast to the rest of the country but in reality, we are pushing them aside, alienating them, and not even trying to connect them to the rest of India.
Chief Justice N.V. Ramana recently said, “A responsive youth is vital for strengthening democracy”. I write this article because we, the youth of the country, have a responsibility. It is necessary for students to realise the importance of our relationship with the society. When we become socially and politically conscious, basic issues can be brought into the national discourse. We cannot remain self-centred, with a narrow vision. Some of us may have to lead this great country ahead. We cannot limit ourselves to partisan and narrow ideas.
The author is a student at Amity University, Gurugram. Views are personal.