On Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju announced that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) had been lifted in Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal Pradesh because of a significant improvement in the security of these states in the past few years.
The decision to repeal the act in the two states comes three years after it was repealed from Tripura by the CPI(M) government led by Manik Sarkar. However, AFSPA is still very much in force in Manipur(except for Imphal), and Nagaland despite the peace accord signed between the Government of India and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM).
This draconian law has a history of misuse, and activists have protested against AFSPA for decades.
Rijiju's announcement was quickly hailed on social media as a good move by the BJP-led government at the Centre.
The revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act by Home Ministry from Assam, Meghalaya & most areas of Arunachal Pradesh is due to significant improvement of security scenario in North-East India in last 4 years.— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) April 23, 2018
The Hindu reported that the AFSPA had been removed from April 1 from the 20 km border areas that Meghalaya shares with Assam, where the Act was in force. The 16 police stations under AFSPA in Arunachal Pradesh have been reduced to eight police stations, as well as the districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding along the Myanmar border.
How Significant Is This Move By The Centre
Commenting on the significance of this step, Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of Women Gun Survivor's Network, told HuffPost India over e-mail, "The repeal of AFSPA in Assam and Meghalaya are welcomed. However, it should be repealed from whole of the northeast region. In Meghalaya, the act was only imposed in the border areas of Meghalaya and Bangaldesh only, so it was in a few areas, hence repeal of AFSPA is not so significant as it is in Assam which has seen one of the worst violent conflicts ever with hundreds of thousands being displaced and still living in displaced camps especially in Bodo areas and in Karbi Anglong."
Under the Act, officers of the armed forces can "fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law". They can also "arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a cognisable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence". The army also has the power to enter any premises without a warrant under this law.
"You don't want this law in any state," said Patricia Mukhim, activist, writer and editor of The Shillong Times.
"Even after 60 years of the British sowing the seeds of this poison law, our democratic rulers are reaping it's poison fruit."Irom Sharmila
Mukhim echoed Nepram's thoughts about its repeal in Meghalaya.
"You can't compare Meghalaya to what happened in Manipur and Nagaland. AFSPA was only implemented on the border with Assam. In Meghalaya it has always been the police that has controlled law and order and not the armed forces," she said. "AFSPA was never really there in Meghalaya."
Elected State Leaders Must Take Initiative
Mukhim said, "It is for the chief ministers of the states to take initiative. In most cases the state governments want to shift responsibility of safety and security to the Centre. If the chief ministers want, they can succeed in bringing down disturbances in the states."
Irom Chanu Sharmila, who went on a 16-year-long fast for the repeal of AFSPA from Manipur, also blamed politicians and elected head of governments for AFSPA still being in force in Manipur and Nagaland.
"It's an inhuman law which was first passed in 1942 by the British colonisers to repress the Quit India Movement. Even after 60 years of the British sowing the seeds of this poison law, our democratic rulers are reaping it's poison fruit. They are destroying its own people mercilessly. AFSPA targets only the common people," Sharmila said.
"Nagaland is much more peaceful now, but we are still reeling under the draconian law."
Sharmila started a hunger-strike against the law in 2000, after an incident known as the Malom Massacre where 10 people, including a 62-year-old woman, were shot and killed by the armed forces while waiting at a bus stop in a town named Malom.
Nepram said, "The nature of current governments in Manipur and Nagaland, supported by Centre, is such that attempts are made to take over lands, natural resources and territories, population engineering, and distort local indigenous histories, show that the govt would continue to keep the act in these two states."
Other activists have also demanded that AFSPA be revoked in Nagaland and Manipur.
Human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam said, "It is good that it has been lifted from Meghalaya, but it will do more good if it were lifted from the states where there has been public outcry over it.
Activists say that the situation in Nagaland and Manipur have improved since AFSPA was first put in force.
An adviser to the Naga Mothers Association, Rosemary Dzuvichu said, "Nagaland is much more peaceful now, but we are still reeling under the draconian law. If the rest of the people in India were reeling under this law, they would understand. Especially the Modi government has to understand the pulse of the people here."
The government's decision to remove AFSPA from Meghalaya comes close on the heels of Kiren Rijiju telling the media, "When it is a very unusual kind of a security situation the security agencies have to face, then this law (AFSPA) is invoked. Now, you must be aware that the Ministry of Defence has a very strong view that this law should continue and we cannot unilaterally make an announcement from the Home Ministry."
Activists say they expect the Centre to take up efforts to ensure peace.
Dzuvichu said, "The Centre is not looking at peace efforts in the state. As long as there is AFSPA there will be hatred."
However, reports suggest that while the review for Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland as "disturbed areas" were being handled by the Centre, the Assam and Manipur state governments have been notifying their states as "disturbed areas" on their own.
"Our struggle is not over yet and women of Manipur and other northeast states will not rest till ASFSPA is repealed from whole of northeast region."
Nepram said she has no hope from the Manipur government to take efforts to repeal AFSPA.
"Current government of Manipur is a puppet government fully controlled by the Centre and their agencies - both state and non-state. What the Manipur government says and does is guided by agencies which are outside the sovereignty of the indigenous people of state.
"Hence, many of us do not see any hope that Manipur government will do anything to repeal act in state though this is state where the strongest movement for repeal of AFSPA had emerged."
The struggle of women in Manipur and other northeastern states against AFSPA will go on.
"Our struggle is not over yet and women of Manipur and other northeast states will not rest till ASFSPA is repealed from whole of northeast region," Nepram said.