By Surbhi Agrawal, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.
It all started when Terrorism was at its peak in the State. AFSPA, i.e., Armed Force (Special Powers) Act, is a controversial law which gives sweeping emergency powers to the Army in troubled areas. This power is not only an inadequate power but an unlimited power which creates a fear in the mind of an individual. The Act was first imposed in Tripura in 1997 when the insurgency was at its height. Armed Force (Special Powers) Act was later enacted in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir when the State was in spurt of violence by the ultras. AFSPA provides an unlimited power to Armed forces like, to shoot at sight, arrest on flimsy pretext without a warrant, conduct warrant-less searches without consent, keep suspects in custody without trial and demolish structures in the name of “aiding civil power”. These powers result in some non-statutory powers, which are the result of human nature, i.e., increment in the greed, like power of raping, torturing, humiliating and also killing Indian Citizens for five decades without fear of being held accountable. They treat themselves as a king as they know that for acts, which are undertaken under the Act, they wouldn’t face any legal action. As the AFSPA protects the forces from litigation and investigation for counter-terror operations, it works as an excuse for army excesses.
The Act also violates provisions of International Human Rights Law, including the Right to Life, the Right to be protected from arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It also denies the victims, who have been abused, the right to a remedy.
The AFSPA was enforced in the State of Tripura 18 years ago to curb insurgency, but the enforcement of AFSPA has taken another route and has deteriorated the situation by destroying the life of innocent people. The power of AFSPA extends to the armed forces when an area, subject to the Act, has been declared “disturbed” by the Central or State Government. This declaration is not subject to judicial review, therefore, they enjoy it to the full extent. When the Act was imposed, there were only 42 police stations and two-thirds of the entire station areas were under this Act. However, as the condition improved and reports of terrorist activities reduced, the Tripura government in June 2013 reduced operational areas of the AFSPA to 30 Police Station Areas. When insurgency was in full swing and the State was petrified of terror, the Act came into being in 1997, but after 2003, the problem of insurgency declined to a great extent and all the areas became peaceful. Though the reign of terror was over, the Government did not immediately revoke AFSPA. It is widely said that “Great Power comes with Great Responsibility” but the Army of the state did not agree with the statement. As a result, now a new reign of terror began and this time the terrorists were the ones who had been given the responsibility of protecting the country. Therefore, now AFSPA is considered as a symbol of abuse, oppression and discrimination.
Withdrawing of AFSPA after 18 years is considered as “Victory for Sanity and Humanity”. After consulting with the Central Government agencies and the Armed Forces, the Act has been finally removed. Local rights groups and Political Parties of Tripura had described the Act as “Draconian” and wanted it to be repealed. “Tribal parties such as the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura and the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura had been demanding the withdrawal of the Act, saying it was aimed at suppressing the State‘s 33 percent tribal population,” said a report in The Hindu. In the meeting of the Council of Ministers, it was decided that there was no requirement of the Act, as the insurgency problem has largely been contained. After taming of terrorism in Tripura, AFSPA has only “harassed innocent folk and deteriorated the situation”. Observing this and after consulting with the Police and Parliamentary forces, the Act has been withdrawn.
One of the most heinous crimes done by the Armed Forces, was the crime against tribal women which has been a feature of the conflict in Tripura. One of the most widely discussed incidents was the 1988 gang rape of 14 tribal women in Ujanmaidan by the Assam Rifles. Rape and Sexual violence has continued in Tripura State since a long time. Three tribal women were allegedly gang raped by the Assam Rifles in Dhalai district during a search operation on February 9, 2006. Several girls were also molested. One of the rape victims even became pregnant and suffered a miscarriage by these incidents.
VIOLATION OF RIGHTS
The AFSPA not only created terror in the minds of people but has also violated many of their rights. According to the Constitution of India, every individual has certain Fundamental Rights which were constantly being violated by this Act.
- Right to Life: Article 21 of the Constitution deals with it. The right to life is violated by Section 4(a) of the AFSPA, which allow extra-judicial executions and under Section 4(b), the armed forces have been granted a special power to destroy properties and to shoot upon any absconder without any warning.
- Right to Liberty and Security: Section 4(c) of the AFSPA violates right to liberty and security. Under Section 4(c), a person is arrested without warrant. It fails to protect against arbitrary arrest by allowing soldiers to arrest anyone merely on suspicion that a “cognizable offence” has already taken place or is likely to take place in the future. Further, the AFSPA does not provide any specific time limit for handing over the arrested persons to the nearest police station. Section 5 of the AFSPA vaguely advises that those arrested should be transferred to police custody, “with the least possible delay”.
- The Right to Remedy: It is violated by Section 6 of the AFSPA, by the officers who abuse their power under the AFSPA with immunity from legal accountability. This section of the AFSPA prohibits even State Governments from initiating legal proceedings against the Armed Forces on behalf of their population without the Central Government approval.
- The Right to be Free from Torture: AFSPA also violates the right to be free from torture or cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment, or of medical or scientific experimentation without consent. Since AFSPA provides power to arrest without warrant and then detain the arrested person for unspecified amounts of time, the armed forces routinely engage in torture.
The Constitution of India, which provides us a wide power to protect our Rights, is violated by AFSPA. The Act which was passed by the Legislature to protect the citizens, is itself violating the Right of the Citizens. As the objective of AFSPA was completed, the Act should have been immediately removed. The authorities have reached this decision quite late but the decision taken by them is a symbol of “victory for the Nation”, but the real victory is yet to be achieved. When the whole nation will be free of such unrestrained power, India would truly be considered free.