By Kiran George:
18 years since the AFSPA Act was first enacted in the state, the Tripura Government has finally lifted the controversially draconian anti-insurgency law. The Act was first introduced on February 16, 1997, when terrorism in the state had given rise to massive violence and butchery – something that had much to do with the 836 km long shared border between Tripura and Bangladesh, which allowed for the funding of terrorist outfits in the state by forces in Bangladesh.
There isn’t any more to be said than what has already been spoken and discussed, as far as the AFSPA is concerned. The constitutionality of the AFSPA has for the longest time been under question, considering firstly, that law and order is a state subject; secondly, the legislation’s blatant violation of the constitutionally conferred fundamental rights; and thirdly, the torture, violence and sexual attacks that soldiers in the army have inflicted upon civilians while exercising the excessively arbitrary powers conferred upon them in the name of national security. The consequences of continued existence of AFSPA in the north eastern states, for instance the Manorama Devi rape case in Manipur, is the perfect example of how excessive authority and power can transform our saviours into rather ferocious demons.
So what made the CPI(M) government in Tripura finally embark upon this noble path that rights organisations and civilians have been hollering about for decades now?
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar explained that in the light of the largely contained and tamed militant insurgency situation as determined by a law and order review conducted by security forces in the state, the withdrawal of the AFSPA was considered imperative and a recommendation was accordingly made to the Union Home Ministry to issue a notification declaring the same.
It is interesting to note that the recently discharged government headed by Manmohan Singh had sought to investigate into the matter of whether the AFSPA could possibly be amended to make it more humane. However, in his K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture on February 6, 2013 at the Institute of Defence Studies, the then senior Union minister, Mr P. Chidambaram said, “We can’t move forward because there is no consensus. The present and former Army Chiefs have taken a strong position that the Act should not be amended (and) do not want the government notification … to be taken back. How does the government … make the AFSPA a more humanitarian law?”
Either way, the stalemate between the then ruling Congress government and the army regarding the AFSPA issue did nothing for the civilians, and it remains to be seen whether the BJP can turn things around. The BJP-run Central government’s generally known stand on the AFSPA has been in favour of the Act, and it is going to be interesting to see whether the government is going to do a convenient back-flip on its stance as it did in the case of J&K anytime soon.
Besides Tripura, the AFSPA is currently in force also in Manipur (excluding the Imphal Municipal Council area), Assam and Nagaland, and in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Irom Sharmila’s fast continues, but the imminent future finally cradles brighter rays of hope, and stories of the AFSPA’s hand in legitimizing atrocities may soon only just be a thing of the past.