Sinlung /
21 August 2014

Modern Democracy has no place for laws like AFSPA

A Manipur sessions court has ruled that Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been fasting to protest military atrocities in Manipur under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) since 2000, is not guilty of attempting to commit suicide, a criminal act under India's laws.

Fasting for political causes has been a hallmark of satyagraha, or non-violent protest, originally practised and preached by none other than Gandhi. But this acquittal really does not solve anything.

Even if Sharmila is released from detention at the Imphal hospital where she is incarcerated, she is unlikely to give up her fast. In that case, she will have to continue to be fed nasally, as she is now.

The hospital is probably a more sanitary place for this to happen. Ultimately the governments of Manipur, other northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir — where AFSPA is imposed — — will have to take the decision to scrap the Act from their states.

But even that will not solve this problem. The Centre also has to agree to revoke the AFSPA, which gives draconian powers to the military to arrest and detain anyone without warrants.  It can also use unlimited force on people who live in areas declared 'disturbed.'

Nobody in the armed forces is judicially liable for any atrocities that happen under the AFSPA.

Whenever previous governments in New Delhi have tried to grasp this nettle, the military establishment has stepped in to argue that it cannot deal with insurgency in sensitive areas without the cover of this law, which was originally drawn up by the British to curb the freedom movement in 1942.

The government has to recognise that in a modern democracy, in the 21st century, there is no scope to retain legislation like the AFSPA.

Unlike a colonial ruler, whose wishes were imposed on a colonised people, democratic regimes survive on the will of voters.

Persisting with laws like AFSPA will actually prolong militancy and disaffection in the northeast and J&K, not end it. It is time the government scrapped this brutal relic from the past, to strengthen India's fledgling democracy.

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