By Shubhra Kukreti:
“Is anything ever going change?”, I ask myself while turning the pages of the morning daily. Ever since the Nirbhaya incident was reported, there have been protests, demonstrations, rallies in every part of the country yet the number of molestation, rape cases seem to have indomitably increased. At least, the newspapers report so. Or is it a Ripple effect? Nirbhaya has made others nirbhay and more and more women are coming out in the open to share their sorrows. But the worst case scenario is in the Northeast where women suffer and cannot even vent out their sufferings. All thanks to AFSPA.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) grants special powers to the armed forces in what the act calls “disturbed areas” in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura as well as Jammu & Kashmir. What was meant to be a remedy has aggravated the disease. Encounter deaths, extra judicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, rape and torture by the army personnel have been a regular feature of the civilian life in these areas. Women in all these cases end up being the worst sufferers. While the killings, disappearances of males lead women to resort to prostitution, smuggling of drugs and even arms trafficking to be the bread winner of the family, rape on the other hand remains the best tactic to terrorize a community into submission.
The instances of rape by the security forces are at least times four times more than the number reported. Yes, it is true that girls do not report of the atrocities because of the social stigma attached with “rape”. What is equally true is the fact that they won’t even get a fair hearing; forget about any kind of justice because as per this “dated and colonial-era law” army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. In one incident by the Task Force of the 16 Maratha Light Infantry in Mokokchung, women were raped, sexually assaulted, and stripped naked. Their clothes were dipped into petrol to burn down their homes. In another case, an army Major raped a twelve-year-old. He, till date, roams freely. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, rapes are not a privilege granted by AFSPA. The Supreme Court ruled out that rape and murder committed by army personnel should be considered a “normal crime”, and that there is “no question of sanction” from the government before prosecution of offenders in such cases. Unfortunately, the guilty have rarely been brought to trial. The army claims to have its own mechanisms to deal with the wrongdoers but there is no transparency in their processes and the perpetrators of the crime never receive the apt punishment.
In 2002, the killings and misuse of the AFSPA in Manipur prompted a young lady Irom Sharmila to go on a fast against the inhumane provisions of the AFSPA. Ten years down the line, this iron lady continues her indefinite fast but the AFSPA remains intact. We do not know how long the act would take to dissolve but it can definitely be diluted. Inclusion of women soldiers in search operations, making people aware of their rights and rejuvenating their belief in Indian judicial system before it’s too late may help. We now cannot afford to be selective in raising our voice against violence towards women. The day we are able to wipe out not just the incident but also the fear of sexual violence from every single heart, it would count as the ultimate tribute to Nirbhaya.