By Kavita Krishnan:
Can Army officers claim to have raped someone in the pursuit of their duty? Absurd claim, isn’t it? The AFSPA’s raison d’etre is that it is needed to shield Army officers from investigation and prosecution for violence done in the pursuit of their duty. If it is obvious that rape cannot form any part of ‘duty’ by any definition, then Army personnel accused of rape ought not to be eligible for any sort of protection under AFSPA. AFSPA requires sanction of the central government for prosecution of armed forces personnel – such sanction should not be needed when it comes to sexual violence cases. And yet, AFSPA serves as a virtual ‘licence to rape’ for Army personnel in conflict areas.
Take the recent case in Karbi Anglong. On 6th April, an Army regiment entered a village in Karbi Anglong, and molested and injured many women. Around eight jawans carried off a 15 year old girl into the forest; when her mother and another woman rushed to rescue her, the jawans raped all three. An ICDS worker who tried to intervene was also injured, and a three-year-old baby was hit with the butt of a rifle. Although protests have been ongoing in Karbi Anglong ever since the rape, none of the jawans have been arrested – the police say they cannot make an arrest because of the AFSPA. Instead, the victims are being pressurized and terrorized into withdrawing their complaints.
The Justice Verma Committee had observed, “Systematic or isolated sexual violence, in the process of Internal Security duties, is being legitimised by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country.” The Verma Committee had recommended that the continuance of AFSPA in the law books be reviewed. The Committee had also recommended that the requirement of central government sanction for prosecution of armed forces personnel should be specifically excluded when a sexual offence is alleged. Not only that, the Verma Committee had recommended that complainants of sexual violence in conflict areas must be afforded witness protection, so that they can give witness without fear of reprisal by the Army against their families; and special commissioners should be appointed in conflict areas to monitor and prosecute for sexual offences.
The UPA Government, rejecting the Verma Committee recommendations, had then orally claimed to women’s movement campaigners, that AFSPA in fact did not apply to rape cases, and there was no question of letting rape-accused hide behind AFSPA. But that claim was obviously a false one. Rape and molestation by Army personnel enjoys widespread impunity, and police do not arrest or prosecute rape-accused Army men. The failure to appoint special commissioners and offer witness protection further means that the victims are extremely vulnerable and fearful of giving evidence against the mighty Army that can not only rape, but also kill, without fear of facing any case.
Karbi Anglong is one of the hill districts of Assam, the site of an agitation demanding autonomous statehood that has lasted several decades. In Karbi Anglong, following the rape case, the Army and Ministry of Defence is seeking to distract and confuse the anti-rape agitation. The Army is claiming that there is no need to prosecute, it will itself take action against the rapists. But in fact, the Army’s latest claim is that ‘the rapist jawan‘ has committed suicide inside the Army camp. This claim is extremely suspicious. The entire regiment, after all, was involved in the attack on the village, and the three women were gang raped by at least eight men. So, there was no single ‘rapist.’ Moreover, the protesters are seeking investigation and prosecution of the entire regiment and its commanding officer. What proof is there that the man who died was indeed one of the rape-accused? The survivors have not yet been given any chance to identify the perpetrators. Further, a suicide inside the Army camp should be treated as a suspicious death and must be probed to check for foul play.
The protesters in Karbi Anglong continue their agitation – they have said clearly that a suspicious ‘suicide’ inside the Army camp is not justice. Justice can only mean that an FIR of rape be lodged, and the rape investigated and to punish all the perpetrators as well as the commanding officer who was in charge of the operation.
Moreover, justice can only mean the scrapping of the AFSPA – that time and again provides a protective shield to rapists in uniform.
The Central Government must of course answer as to why AFSPA is not only being allowed to remain, but is also being extended to Arunachal Pradesh. It must also answer as to why it is yet to give sanction to the Assam police to file a rape FIR against the accused Army personnel in Karbi Anglong. Why instead is the Army being allowed to try and influence the justice process and intimidate witnesses?
But the Assam Government also cannot claim helplessness. After all, it is the State Government that has responsibility for the safety of its citizens. Why isn’t the Assam Government at least seeking permission to prosecute the rape-accused Army personnel? Why can’t the Assam Government at least order an independent judicial enquiry, instead of allowing the Army to tamper with evidence and witnesses?
There is a lot of hue and cry in the media over ‘delays’ in justice in some selected rape cases. But one wonders why most channels fail to speak of the delay and sheer denial of justice in rape cases involving the Army. Why do the channels with flaming fire across their screens, screaming to tell us what ‘the nation wants to know’, develop such cold feet when it comes to covering a story like the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama?
In 2004, Thangjam Manorama’s brutal rape and murder by the Assam Rifles personnel sparked off a historic movement demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Manipur’s women stripped off their clothes and protested in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters at Kangla Fort, shouting ‘Indian Army Rape Us!’
An Enquiry Commission, under the Chairmanship of C. Upendra Singh, retired District and Sessions Judge, Manipur, was set up in 2004 by the Manipur Government because of the explosive public pressure. But it was thwarted from the start by the Assam Rifles, that claimed it was protected by AFSPA from such enquiries. Justice Upendra Singh submitted his final report to the Manipur government in November 22, 2004 – the same year that Manorama was raped. But the report could not be made public because the Army and Central Government continuously challenged it in courts. Finally, in 2014, the Upendra Singh commission report could be made public, only after the Union home ministry submitted the report to the Supreme Court on its directive. The Supreme Court ordered the Centre to pay compensation to Manorama’s mother – tacitly admitting that the report is factual and true in establishing that Manorama was raped and murdered by the Army. Yet, can Rs 10 lakhs be a substitute for justice in a case of rape, torture and murder?
Ten whole years after Manorama was raped and killed, the Upendra Commission report was made public, which detailed the “brutal and merciless torture” and rape to which Manorama was subjected before being murdered in cold blood. Yet – even after ten years – those named by the Commission as the guilty men, are yet to face prosecution and trial!
The media talks of brutal torture and rape in the December 2012 case, as well as other similar cases in Lucknow and Haryana. But why is it mostly (with a few honourable exceptions) so reluctant to speak of the brutal and merciless torture and murder of Manorama? Clearly, it is because they would rather not speak of rape committed by men in uniform – only of rapes in which slum-dwelling men like Mukesh are accused. But rapists and killers in uniform rape not out of opportunism but because it is part of the tacitly accepted and encouraged state policy of repression of local population in conflict areas. These are rapes done – and shielded – in the name of the ‘nation’.
We, the people of the country, need to speak louder and clearer against the AFSPA and rapes shielded by AFSPA.
Let us support the protests by the Karbi Nimso Chinthur Assam, SYC and other women’s and students’ groups in Karbi Anglong. Let us tell the Governments of Assam and the Centre, that we refuse to condone rape that is shielded in the name of ‘the nation’ – in our name. Let us demand to scrap the AFSPA.
A protest demonstration by women’s and students’ groups will be held at Assam Bhawan at 3 PM on 18th April. A memorandum will be submitted after the demonstration to both the Assam Government as well as the Home Ministry.
Kavita Krishnan is Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and tweets at @kavita_krishnan