By Abhishek Jha:
For a lot of people who flocked to watch the new Shahid Kapoor starrer last year, AFSPA was a new word. Even when a leaf from it was shown to them, wrapped neatly in the cover of domestic feud and an individual’s madness, it was edible with popcorn and cola. The jingoistic lot cried foul, but since it fit the bill of blood, gore, and romance, an average movie-goer was happy to have his money’s worth. Half a year later, people remember the movie through the songs and dance numbers. AFSPA lies buried.
Over a week ago, the home ministry declared 12 more districts in Arunachal Pradesh to be “disturbed”, that has brought them under the inhumane Armed Forces Special Powers Act. While the three districts of Tirap, Changlang, and Longding were already under this law that gives the armed forces impunity from prosecution and a licence to kill, this extension was met with shock by the Chief Minister himself, who denounced it as the 12 districts are peaceful.
The Dark Face of AFSPA is no Secret
However, Chief Minister Tuki can do little more than expressing shock. The 1972 amendment allowed the central government too to declare areas as “disturbed” in the seven north-eastern states and the 1990 Act brought Jammu and Kashmir in its folds. Even when legislators in the centre like P. Chidambaram or Manmohan Singh have spoken against it and asked for its dilution, they have been met with stiff opposition from the army and from within their governments. P. Chidambaram, in an essay by A.G. Noorani, a lawyer and historian, is quoted as having said, “You will send your Army. You will send your paramilitary forces and you will protect the land. But what will you do about the people? Who is with you in Kashmir today?” He adds later, “In June 1990, the same committee sent a team of four women to investigate into the impact of militarisation of the Kashmir Valley and the lives…It is not possible to read this report. If I read a few paragraphs, it will shock us into a shame out of which we will never emerge.”
In 2005, a committee headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy called the act “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness” and asked for the law to be repealed. The act wasn’t repealed or even modified but it tells us something important. It shows that the vulgarity of this law and its misuse is so burgeoning that it has spilled over into the statements of mainstream politicians and into Bollywood movies. If it really is obscene, why does the law still exist and what does it mean for the rest of us who are not subjected to it?
What do Indians Fear?
There seems to be a fabrication of fear among Indian citizens by successive governments or by the army. A majority of India views the north-eastern states as an alien part, evident enough in the derogatory term “chinki”. Similarly, a Kashmiri Muslim is always feared for being a terrorist. The void of knowledge about their history of accession, their culture and traditions, and their history in general is filled only and only by sensationalist media reports that have nothing to report on except the terrorist attacks and the demands of secession. This makes the average Indian, who had little in his school textbooks to know about the history, culture, or politics of these regions, perceive them as a threat to the nation and its integrity. That this integrity lies in questionable and criticised history is unknown to them. That even this integrity will not be threatened if the act is repealed has been efficiently removed from their imagination.
But what does the Indian state gain from this? Section 6 of the act says “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.” Similarly, an area can be declared as disturbed without the state being required to cite reasons for it or being held accountable for it. This free reign allows the state to do as it pleases. When Indian citizens fear the people in these regions, it immediately frees the state of any responsibility of being democratic. So much is the illusion widespread that either parties do not have this law in their agenda or even win elections by furthering the illusion.
Aspirational India Wants More Land and Less People
But the somewhat successful Bollywood movie would still baffle some people. It should not, however, if we are to see that movies like Peepli Live (about farmer suicides) are also successful in Bollywood. The aspirational Indian people have redefined what is socially just for them. That a party with well-known fascist elements gets elected on the rhetoric of development- a development which leaves, forgets, or eliminates those who cannot get on its bandwagon- is the culmination of this fabrication of what is socially just.
But at some point we must wake up. If one was not blind in one’s support of the Land Bill, one would have seen how section 87 of the 2013 act, which allowed even government officials to be prosecuted, was replaced to give the official an impunity very much like section 6 of AFSPA. And believing everything the mellifluous Modi says on Mann ki Baat, the aspirational janta has not batted an eyelid. This impunity also exists for public servants under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Siddharth Varadarajan, regretting “the balance of political and institutional forces in India today” that could not do away with such flaws in our legislation (“In a democracy, this requirement of previous sanction should have no place.“) made “a modest proposal on AFSPA” in the Hindu in 2010:
‘Section 6 could thus be amended to read: “No prosecution … shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act where the Central government provides reasons in writing and the competent court upholds the legal validity of these reasons.”… The government would still have the right to intervene on behalf of a soldier who has committed an illegal act. But this would require a Minister to take personal responsibility for a decision that would, after all, be tantamount to denying justice to the victim’s family.’
However, any amendment seems unlikely, as like former GOC-in-C, Northern Command, Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal “provisions of AFSPA are very pious“ to a lot of Indians too. Corruption and black money, which stood in the way of India’s development, could be defeated with political force and mass agitation. But our “collective conscience” is still in the barrel when it comes to AFSPA. For a long time, repealing AFSPA is to remain a matter of fantasy and films.