The political leadership must force the army to confront its AFSPA bogey

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THE AFSPA IS not merely a draconian law. It is an inexplicable political irrationality. This week brought stark crystallisations of that, yet again. Irom Sharmila — her 12th year into a fast so stoic and steadfast and historic, it literally challenges the human imagination — was brought to New Delhi to appear in a case registered against her for attempted suicide. Almost the same day, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah broke down in the state Assembly over the tragic and unprovoked killing of a civilian in Baramulla. Extreme fortitude, extreme frustration: it should have served to shift the boundaries of the conversation at least an inch. But it hasn’t.

The debate on AFSPA has been trapped in a bizarre rigor mortis for decades. The army insists its men cannot function in a civilian conflict situation without it. Revoking it, they argue, would lower soldier morale and create safe zones for militants to group. This is a fallacious argument. In itself, AFSPA is no deterrence to the growth of militancy. In Manipur, in the years that AFSPA was in full effect, militant outfits ballooned from around 20 to 40 groups. In 2004, when the state erupted in protests against the rape and murder of Manorama, AFSPA was partially withdrawn from some districts. There is absolutely no evidence to show militancy has spiked in those districts in AFSPA’S absence.

Yet, no one seems willing to risk even such token — but potent — gestures in J&K. Omar’s frustration is not new. Back in 2011, speaking to TEHELKA, he had said he was determined to make headway on revoking AFSPA from a few peaceful districts. The army had to stop speaking in forked tongues. If they claimed militancy was the lowest it had been in 21 years, people rightly would expect a peace dividend. Omar said he was determined to give it. If the army would not relent, he’d revoke the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) from some regions as this lay within his jurisdiction. The AFSPA can only be operative in areas declared disturbed. So, in effect, revoking the DAA would revoke AFSPA. “Let’s just take the risk,” he said. “If the DAA can be lifted, it can as soon be put back. If there’s a spurt in militancy because the DAA was removed, what stops us from putting it back? It’s not a commandment from god. It’s a law.”

Strong words, but nothing happened. Both Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram in his stint as home minister had promised amendments that would make the Act more humane. But nothing happened. Now, it appears, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and Omar are all in agreement: AFSPA must be revoked partially in J&K. If still nothing happens, what are Kashmiris to assume? AFSPA is a commandment from god?

If ever the time was right to repeal this law — even partially — it is now. By its very definition, leadership means taking risks. The army is right to ask for adequate protection for its soldiers, but why insist on excessive protection? Recently, the Justice Verma Committee recommended that violence or sexual assault by soldiers against women in conflict zones should not enjoy immunity under AFSPA, but the army stonewalled even that.

Like the Manipuri mothers who protested naked outside the Rashtriya Rifles base; like Irom Sharmila’s long, resolute fast, in a sense, Omar’s outburst in the Assembly is deeply symptomatic. The AFSPA sits like a canker in the soul of a democratic nation. The country’s political leadership must force the army to confront its bogey.

In just the past one year, the army has gunned down several militants in genuine encounters. In each of these cases, not once have any locals raised an accusatory finger against the army. Not in December 2012 when five Pakistani militants and a local Kashmiri, Atir Ahmad Dar, were shot down in Sopore; not in April 2012 when five militants were killed in Handwara; and again not when two suspected LeT militants were killed in Budgam recently, to name just a few. It is only incidents like the Machil killings and the latest one in Baramulla that set people seething. Why would the army want to immunise its soldiers from the idea of discipline and fair play?

After his outburst, Omar tweeted that his emotions should not be read as helplessness. He is right: he is not helpless. The power to revoke the AFSPA may lie with the Union home ministry, but the power to revoke DAA lies with him. Gratefully, in the tier of Indian democracy, while the army commands respect, it is the elected who have the right to dictate. Omar must remember he was elected to keep promises and preserve the idea of justice.

That’s a good vantage point to give orders from.

shoma@tehelka.com

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.

6 COMMENTS

    • why does Omar Abdullah not revoke the Disturbed Areas Act, which is completely under his jurisdiction and power. The army then has to go. Question is does he have the gumption to walk his talk? Or is it a question of the elephant having different teeth to show and different to eat?

  1. We Charge Genocide
    The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948 as General Assembly Resolution 260. The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951. It defines genocide in legal terms, and is the culmination of years of campaigning by lawyer Raphael Lemkin. Yaur Auron writes “When Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide in 1944 he cited the 1915 annihilation of Armenians as a seminal example of genocide.” All participating countries are advised to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and in peacetime. The number of states that have ratified the convention is currently 142.
    The list of parties to the Genocide Convention encompasses the states who have signed and ratified or acceded to the international agreement to prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and in peacetime.
    India Nov 29, 1949 Aug 27, 1959 Ratification
    Pakistan Dec 11, 1948 Oct 12, 1957 Ratification
    On December 11, 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was opened for signature. Ethiopia became the first state to deposit the treaty on July 1, 1949. The treaty came into force and closed for signature on January 12, 1951. Since then, states that did not sign the treaty can now only accede to it. The instrument of ratification, accession, or succession is deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations
    As of 2012, 142 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, most recently Cape Verde on October 10, 2011. A further single state, the Dominican Republic has signed but not ratified the treaty.
    “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” is a document accusing the United States government of genocide according to the UN Genocide Convention. This document was created by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) and presented to the United Nations in December 1951.
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    The document received international media attention and became caught up in Cold War politics. Its many examples of shocking conditions for African Americans shaped beliefs about America in countries across the world. The American government and white press accused the CRC of exaggerating racial inequality to advance the cause of Communism. The US State Department forced CRC secretary William L. Patterson to surrender his passport after presenting the petition to a UN meeting in Paris.

    • thank you for your support to Kashmir Pandit who have cleared from valley over the period of time by so called freedom fighter. I saw Malik on in capital talk a show in GEO Pakistan. He said the relation he has with Pakistan is of Islam and nothing else. Please dont forget Your fore fathers were not Muslims…

  2. To Dara Cooper and other AFSPA evangelists, I dont know about J&K, but the Center is certain to impose President’s rule and bring back AFSPA if an elected govt removes DAA. And it doesn’t help that we have spineless governments. AFSPA brings hatred and the NE would one day cede from India, thanks to AFSPA.

  3. Here is a thought for you. Why are people from Jammu not worried about AFSPA?
    and as for genocide, it happened in Kashmir in 1989-90 when hindus were targeted and killed, when there were daily announcements in mosques asking hindus to leave, when there were daily slogans of making Kashmir a pakistan with hindu women and without hindu men.

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