By Devika Mittal On 19th August, Irom Sharmila, a Manipuri activist who has been on a hunger-strike for 14 years now and was under house arrest with the charge of “attempt to commit suicide”, was ordered to be released by Imphal Court. The decision had invoked appreciation from human rights’ groups and anyone who was sympathetic with her, if not the cause. However, two days after her release, she was forcibly re-arrested as she had continued her hunger-strike. The police issued a statement saying that they had to arrest her or she would have died. “We cannot see her die”. This concern may seem touching and thoughtful only for a moment because then one gets reminded of the fact that “arresting” and “re-arresting” has been the only concern of the authorities. They have and continue to see Irom Sharmila as the culprit whereas in reality, the culprit is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Irom is the victim. They have essentially looked and continue to look at Irom Sharmila as the law offender whereas in reality, it is AFSPA which offends the basic rights constituted in our constitution. Irom Sharmila has re-iterated that she never attempted to commit suicide. She has several times re-iterated that she loves her life but she wants peace and justice. She wants rights for everyone. But her demand has been considered to be invalid and unacceptable. While it has been considered “unacceptable”, AFSPA being an inhuman law has not been refuted. The draconian nature of AFSPA has been established by national and international human rights’ groups, the judiciary, the Government officials and the inquiry committees established by the Government. Yet, it survives. Former External Minister Salman Khurshid had accepted and felt the “shame” of Kunan Poshpora incident of Kashmir wherein at least 40 women were raped by Indian army on the same night. But he had not demanded the repeal. He, like many other politicians, regarded it to be a ‘necessary evil”. But is it really a “necessary evil”? Why is it so difficult to repeal AFSPA? The Government had brought AFSPA to counter insurgency and “restore” order and normalcy. This is the official reason given but if we look at the conditions in which AFSPA had come and now survives, we will find many loopholes in this theory. My first reference is to the letter written by Sardar Patel to the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru dated 7 November 1950. In the letter, Patel had warned Nehru about the spread and threat of communism in China, the undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our side of population with its affinities to Tibetans or Chinese. To tackle this, he had recommended that a relevant security police must be adopted. Some years later, AFSPA, a law with colonial precedents was adopted, which exists and operates on “mere suspicion”. It is not to deny that there were no problems in Assam and Manipur where the law was first imposed. There were problems but as is revealed by the parliamentary debates around AFSPA when the bill was tabled, the ministers from North East had expressed their doubt over the intensity of the situation. They had asked if the situation was this bad that such a law should be adopted. L. Achaw Singh, an MP from Manipur had found the bill to be ‘unnecessary’. He had cited cases wherein the armed forces had committed excesses against the innocent tribals. He had argued that the new law will only worsen the situation. (CPDM 2000: 28) Similarly, Shri Rungsung Suisa had also questioned the necessity for this law. He had asked if the conditions are this bad in Manipur. He had also warned that this law will only worsen the situation. It will lead to gross human rights’ violations. (CPDM 2000: 29) However, their voices were neglected and AFSPA was imposed. AFSPA was supposed to be a temporary law but today, it has completed 60 years. One should inquire if there have been improvements in the situation. The “improvement” that AFSPA has brought in is that when AFSPA was imposed, there were only 2 armed insurgent groups and today there are at least 40 insurgent groups. How do we explain this proliferation of insurgent groups after imposition of AFSPA which was imposed to tackle it? This proliferation rather than decrease in armed insurgency shows that AFSPA has failed to be the solution. It has not only failed to control the situation but also seems to have alienated and encouraged people to take up arms. The “improvement” that it has brought in is that it has changed the very definition of “normalcy”. The “normal” in AFSPA states is characterized by fake encounters, extra-judicial killings, torture and rape. Everyday has become a struggle to save life and honour. This is the nature of “order” that AFSPA has brought in. As noted earlier, the gross human rights violations have been admitted by the judiciary and the Government itself. It must be noted that during the election 2014, many political parties including Congress and BJP had repeal of AFSPA in their manifesto. This repeal of AFSPA demand has been there in the manifestos of local parties in AFSPA states for a long time. Yet, it survives. Why is this? It is a mistake to look at AFSPA as just a security law. Challenging it by calling it as inhuman law is also not sufficient. We need to understand that AFSPA serves many other purposes. Today, AFSPA has been caught in the blame game. The Government blames the army while the army, in turn, blames the Government for failing to control the ‘law and order’ that led to its application and army deployment. The blame game has also been for the centre-state level. While it has become habitual for the state to blame the centre for the existence of AFSPA, the reality is that the state governments do have the power to revoke it or reduce its power as it is on their or the governor’s recommendation that the area is declared “disturbed” and AFSPA is imposed. If it cannot revoke it, it can atleast voice this demand. Thus, it seems that AFSPA has many stake-holders. For the Government, AFSPA is an escape route to hide the administrative failures to provide basic amenities and development for the people of these states. For the state government, AFSPA is important also because it attracts funds from the centre. It is dear to the army as it allows it unrestrained liberty. It is important that we understand the politics that brought and is sustaining AFSPA. It is easy and convenient to call someone who opposes AFSPA as “anti-national” and “traitor” but reality is different. It is often argued that if AFSPA is not there, states of Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir will secede. As I tried to point out, AFSPA has not only failed to tackle “insurgency”, it is promoting discontent. It is for us to think that will someone whose relative is killed, raped or tortured want to be a part of the country? We need to re-think AFSPA as a solution to insurgency? There is a need to know the cause for insurgency. Any country that claims to be based on the ideals of truth, justice, democracy and humanity must try to solve the problem, not suppress it. Reference: CPDM 2010. AFSPA: Manipur Experience. New Delhi. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. 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