There is no doubt that Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan has been able to inspire not only millions of Indians with his show Satyamev Jayate, but also able to implement many reforms and decision making by the Center of power – the Indian Government. While there are thousands of issues in this country with varied level of priority and severity, today we would request and appeal to Aamir, about one specific issue that has been neglected by almost everyone in mainstream India,- the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Press, the Social activists, the parliament (as expected) and even the young has given or been forced to give either a blind eye or to keep silent about this inhuman, undemocratic draconian law. Those who have talked about this, in spite of fear have been thrashed down or even have been labelled Anti-Indian!
Even the United Nations had asked India to repeal AFSPA. In the words of Christof Heyns, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, – The AFSPA allows the state to override rights in the disturbed areas in a much intrusive way than would be the case under a state of emergency, since the right to life is in effect suspended, and this is done without the safeguards applicable to states of emergency. In fact Mr. Heyns was denied permission to visit Manipur, the land of Irom Sharmila, where AFSPA is valid.
The Tale of a Crusader – Irom Sharmila
It was the 6th of November 2000, the third day of fast-to-death by a young woman with unmatched inner strength, whom now we call as the Iron Lady of Manipur – Irom Sharmila. She was fasting against the draconian AFSPA which has been accused to have provided the Indian Army power to kill and even rape civilians of North East India without any justice to the victim. The reason why she started the fast on 4th of November was to protest against the Indian Army brutally killing ten innocent civilians at a bus stop in Malom, a town in Imphal valley, on November 1st, 2000. The killings by the Indian Army had included a 62 year old woman and a youth, a former national Child Bravery Award winner. Instead of paying any respect to Sharmila’s democratic and peaceful protest against a barbaric act, instead of even trying to listen to what she wanted to speak about, the state forces of the great (!) Indian democracy arrested her charging her of suicide attempt.
Irom Sharmila’s peaceful non-violent means of protest, the hunger strike idolized by the Gandhis and the Nehrus whom India still claims to follow, was labelled as attempt to suicide on her third day of protest. With her courage and patience, Irom Sharmila continues to hunger strike till today and but has been arrested several times throughout the decade, each time with the same charge of suicide attempt. In fact seeing Irom Sharmila’s case, we people of North East India now have the right to question if India gained its independence because of suicide attempts by Gandhi and his followers by not eating or drinking.
About two years ago, 73 years old Anna Hazare decided stage a hunger strike to implement a bill that might help bring down corruption. On his third day, he was contacted by the Prime Minister’s office, accolades flowed into him from all section of media and public and the Government agreed to his demands. This time the State forces did not consider him to be staging a suicide attempt. Instead, he was showered with praises by the Government as well as opposition. Though there is no denying the fact the Anna Hazare deserves respect and credit for his strong stand against corruption, the way he succeeded in bringing some action in just three days has understandably astonished the people of North East India because of the paradigm shift of policy of Indian Government in handling the two hunger strikes.
The pain that Iron Sharmila has gone through in the last decade, without food and water, with a food pipe forced into her nose by the Government of India only to keep her alive, is unbelievable. She is undergoing this pain with so much courage and patience only for the sake of Humanity. She is fighting for none else but for and on behalf of the people of India against a draconian rule which violates all norms of human rights. Unfortunately, there are no takers in her own country to stand up against the Indian Government and support this cause.
If you don’t know – This is what Irom Sharmila is protesting against:
Irom Sharmila is protesting against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), one of the most draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has passed. It is implemented only in the North East States of India and Jammu & Kashmir. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill or arrest anyone without a warrant based on mere suspicion. This inhuman law which dignifies the basic human rights has been long protested by the people of the region; however the long cries and protests have never succeeded in making the centre realize the need to consider citizens of the North East states or Kashmir as human beings who needed same rights as fellow countrymen.
A few of the brutal points about the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA):
- Why AFSPA is draconian and unconstitutional
Section 3 of the AFSPA grants the power to declare an area disturbed to the Central Government and the Governor of the State, but does not clearly describe the circumstances under which the authority would be justified in making such a declaration! This decision is a grey area and depends on the satisfaction level of the government and cannot be judicially challenged, even if the state government does not agree. In fact the fact that North Eastern states always had an ex-military general as its Governor proves the parallel colonialism style Government which the center tried to maintain with the use of the AFSPA.
Under section 4, the army men are allowed to shoot to kill and the only requirement is the opinion of the army personnel! The army is also given the power to destroy property, arrest anyone and take to custody for as long as wanted. Needless to mention such powers have often reported to have resulted in the negative in the North East, with many Army Personnel accused of innumerable rapes, fake killings and tortures to thousands of innocent individuals.
Section 6 of the AFSPA provides the Army with absolute immunity for all atrocities committed under the AFSPA. A person wishing to file suit against a member of the armed forces for abuses must first seek the permission of the Central Government! This AFSPA suspends the Constitutional right to take legal action.
- AFSPA violates several International law
The AFSPA, by its form and in its application, violates the:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The following sections of this declaration is violated by the AFSPA: 1 – Free and Equal Dignity and rights, 2 – Non- discrimination, 3 – Life, liberty, security of person, 5 – no torture, 7 – equality before the law, 8 – effective remedy, 9 – no arbitrary arrest, 17 – property.
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR)
- The Convention Against Torture, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials
- The UN Body of Principles for Protection of All Persons Under any form of Detention
- UN Principles on Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra- legal and summary executions.
Why this injustice and inhuman attitude to North-East and Kashmir alone
A law similar to AFSPA was once used by the British Army in Northern Ireland when they carried out arrests under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act or the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. Under this law, the detainees were held for seven days without charge. However the European Court of Human Rights found this to be in violation of the Human Rights Covenant and had abolished this law.
In India, however the Delhi high court had found the AFSPA to be legal and constitutional when it was challenged. When India had presented its periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights committee in 1991, Members of the UN challenged the validity of the AFSPA, questioning how the AFSPA could be deemed constitutional under Indian law. The Attorney General of India is said to have only argued that the AFSPA is necessary to prevent the secession of the North Eastern states. This had made the stand of the Indian Government quite clear that it is not exactly concerned about safeguarding lives and interests of the people of this region but only to rule and exploit it.
Indian has recent rise in armed conflicts in all Maoist affected zones, where the magnitude of terror is found to be more than what it is in North East. However, Indian Government has neither deployed the army (Stating that Maoists are the citizens of India and Army should not fight their own citizens) nor declared the areas as disturbed to enact the AFSPA into those areas. Do we need to tell more?
The Request to Aamir Khan:
Aamir, will you stand with us please and bring this topic to National Scene with your much acclaimed show? You are not the last hope, but you are indeed one person who is respected for your social voice all over India. We have high hopes from you and will appreciate if you stand for this cause of Humanity of your fellow countrymen.
Priyankan Goswami is the Editor of Times of Assam’s Political Analysis section. He is also founder member and member of the Executive board of Times of Assam.
By Academic Priyankan Goswami is MBA & Mechanical Engineer.