Fresh look on AFSPA – way you never thought before

By- Debabrata Gogoi

It was in Dimapur, around 1990, that I had first heard the word TADA and ever since then it had remained but a devilish connotation in my vocabulary. That word had been spoken with great fear and anguish, by my parents and neighbours. And even though I was an eight year old child I learnt that more or less it had to do with punishment and pain. That same year our family came to Guwahati and now after all these years when I look back at events I feel that I might have been a very different person had our family not changed towns.

It was a great feeling, growing up in Dimapur. I was that little kid whom high school and college-going kids would pick on in a loving manner. They’d toss me around like a fat piece of dough in their arms. Sometimes they would hand me chewing gums. And they did so because my father was a popular tutor who taught Mathematics and Science, the dreadful subjects for many. That fact that I was Assamese and they were mostly Naga did not seem to matter back then.

One among the many elder brothers that I had, a half Naga half Assamese guy, who lived in a spiral, white colored, eye-catching house deserves special mention. As far as I remember he was a handsome hard-built college-going guy. He didn’t take tuitions with my father but their family had pet rabbits and I often went there to see them. I learnt it later that he had three sisters too. He would also take me to watch his foot ball game sometimes.

One night when we were about to sit for dinner his mother and neighbours came to our house. They talked to my parents about a very serious business, as it seemed to me, because they did not bother to pay me any attention. Perhaps they wanted my father’s help as he was a central government employee. Early next morning I was told that my brother was picked up by the military and they were refusing to let him go. The members of the Assamese society, the local shopkeepers and the Naga elders all went to the Army office but returned empty handed. I learnt it much later that he was picked up because he was an alleged member of the NSCN. All that they told me back then was ‘keep quiet or the army will take you too’ – Gabbar being replaced by Indian Army, simply.

What the army did to him was horrendous. Everybody, including our family went to see him. He was held captive, without involving law or lawyers, for almost a month and when they bought him back he was a sight to see. People went to see him not because he was released by the army but simply because he was tortured to such extent that his body almost became a piece of sick art. I only remember his gashed eyes but later I was told that he had to stay naked for many days after being released because wearing clothes would hurt him.

It’s almost 2012, and nobody cares now. And I don’t know where he lives nor do I have any idea how he might have survived the mental trauma. He is not in Facebook or any social media, and with the passing of my father the last possible connect with him is buried as well. But I remember from the stories that he became a depressive individual – very far from the vibrant guy as I always pictured him. Also his family kept saying that he was innocent and yet lucky. He was innocent because he had friends in college who had signed up for NSCN duties and so it could not be said that he was a rebel too. He should only have been punished for being a bad judge of character and not for being a ‘bad character’. And he was lucky because they didn’t put a bullet in his head and then a gun in his hand. He was very lucky indeed to have not died a teenager.

The TADA, POTA or AFSPA is a very bad thing. The moment I saw in the newspapers this so called Repeal AFSPA movement I said to myself that the movement should have been instead to Prosecute the creators of AFSPA since it is unconstitutional.

Firstly, if the people of North East and J&K are citizens they cannot be ruled under AFSPA and if it is done so then they cease to become citizens, hence free to decide for their own future thereby making them immune from Indian laws. Citizens of India have the Fundamental Rights, non-citizens do not.

Secondly, if the right to murder is hidden as subtext in a mud pool of anti-constitutional legislation then the right to kill and go unpunished should be extended to every party in that area, giving the innocent people the right to defend themselves against the unleashed Army men and rebel/terrorist alike. Simply put, I will shoot anyone that barges into my house at night – be army or be rebels – and for that I cannot be held liable.

But the forces at play on the ground level are not as simple as an unconstitutional law. There are many factors working at the same time. Race, religion, education and upbringing are some of them. The regiments posted all over India always have a racial angle – something borrowed from the British Raj. The theory of Sikh vs. the Hindu, Muslim vs. the Gorkha etc are now being put to the table as Punjabis or Biharis will be posted in North East and the North East recruits will be posted in Kashmir. This regionalization and racial difference within the country seems to work for the Army and they have exploited it shamelessly over the years. Also the Army is mostly a Hindu army, and in Kashmir and the North East, the Muslims and the Christians are therefore not looked at very kindly.

The education that one receives, especially from the family, is very different in both these two AFSPA-infested places. In Kashmir it is the religious and familial bonds whereas in the hill states of North East it is the community bonds. And since, economically both these areas have been left to rot; its inverse effect is that such religious and community bonds replace the economic bonds cherished by a Keralite or a Delhiite.

Finally, the upbringing of kids in Kashmir or the North East is pretty different from the rest of India. The violence on the streets, the word-of-mouth against the governments, the tug of war between extremists and loyalists, etc. are common things for a kid here. Parents cannot tie their children to a post, and what’s learnt on the street becomes a part of the psyche. Where in places like Delhi or Mumbai kids learn the importance of insurance or wearing a helmet, kids in our places learn not to talk to recruiters (for militants) or learn how to avoid a police checking. No wonder that the worst of Delhi is a rapist, murderer or a con man; whereas the worst of us are child soldiers, suicide bombers or extortionists.

If at all possible, the people who wrote the words of TADA, POTA or AFSPA and those who voted for it in the parliament should be held liable for reckless endangerment of human lives, for treason against the Union of India and for blasphemy against the Constitution.

The only solution, it seems, for redressing the deep anchored hatred and pain is an apology to the affected people and their subsequent economic advancement. So-called dialogues started by fat ministers, muffled scholars and cunning bureaucrats will not work. The Army or the police cannot help as they do not address the matters of the heart. If India has to be a true democracy then it has to show that the Rule by Law is also a Lawful Rule – starting with an investigation into who first thought of these unlawful acts that facilitated the murder of Indians.

Doubts about legitimacy of Indian rule in those places have to be cleared on an ideological level and at grass root, people-to-people levels. The political, judicial or bureaucratic are middle levels and would not work because they can only work for themselves and they have specified limits. Ideology and grassroots are extreme levels on both end of the spectrum and only by working with them can a solution be found. And this can only be done by paying equal attention to every nook and corner of the country. Imagine the kind of feelings spawning in the hearts of people who now see the advancement all over the place sparing their own – thus creating insoluble divisions amongst peoples. Such divisions among peoples work only for the Defence Establishments (who otherwise would rust in peace) and not for the Democracy that inspired the Indian Freedom Struggle. As such, while trying to get the bigger picture one must not forget that the bigger picture would require more paint (ideas) and much more time (commitments) to realize. Hence, more and more needs to be done should be the only dictum on the path to peace.

Note – apology as an instrument of bringing closure to people is very much inbuilt in the human system, as is evident from examples found worldwide. President Obama almost apologized publicly to the Japanese for the atom bomb holocausts. The US Senate recently issued a statement of regret for decades of discrimination against Chinese immigrants in the USA. Australia did it officially for the Aborigines. For India, being the land of Gandhi, it should not be difficult.

AFSPAArmyAssamIndian ArmyKashmirNorth EastPOTATADA