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Nagaland rights activist exposes Armed Forces Special Powers Act

Misguided or Deliberate Policy: Armed Rebellion and Political Conflict

By Neingulo Krome

[This paper was presented in a Seminar on “Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act” during the Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace held at Imphal from November 2 – 6, 2010. The author is a former Secretary General of NPMHR]

At the outset I want to thank the Just Peace Foundation for giving us this opportunity of deliberating issues of common concern in a most befitting and elaborate manner, commemorating it with the completion of 10 years of Irom Sharmila’s Fast unto Death against one of the most draconian and anti-democratic law in India. In this aspect, I also want to salute Ms Irom Sharmila for her courage and ability to demonstrate the highest humanly possible sacrifice for the cause of not only the “ten slaughtered civilians at Malom Village” by personnel of the Indian Security Forces, but for humanity as a whole.


Am sure, when she decided to protest to demand the removal of the AFSPA, she did not do it for fame or glory but just took out the best of the “humanity in her” for the sake of millions of defenceless civilians and even for those people who are devoid of humanity and perpetrates inhuman acts against fellow human beings.

Having said that, going by the analysis of various international monitoring agencies, including those of the United Nations, it is clear that the Government of India made an “over-zealous effort to integrate the people of the North East into their so-called national mainstream by using the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act”. Therefore, this is a deliberate policy of the Government of India against the people of North East starting with the Naga Movement as one of the first group of people who asserted their identities as – Nagas and “not Indians” and launched a political movement which turned into an armed resistance movement under military compulsion.

This Act was then enacted as The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act of 1958 as the present State of Nagaland was just a district under Assam at that time and Manipur with the present Naga Hills districts a Union Territory. After Manipur became a full-fledged state in 1972 along with Meghalaya and Tripura, this Act was again amended in 1972 in order to extend this Act to the newly created states. Whatever the nomenclature or target group may have been at that point of time, the people of North East India as a whole, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and many parts of the Indian sub-continent now reels under the shadow of this “death penalty” – “Shot to kill” anyone on mere suspicion. This is what the Government of India is apparently seeking to address through the AFSPA.

Its efficacies can be summarised on the fact that, rather than integrating the people of North East or wherever political conflict exist, it has only alienated the people and increased social and political unrest with the multiplication of armed resistance groups. And in so far as the personnel of the Indian Security forces are concerned; they have effectively executed various categories of protecting “national security” in exercise of powers conferred under the AFSPA, such as; (and I quote from the report of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi after the Supreme Court’s Judgement on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1997 was pronounced under the caption “An Illusion of Justice” published in 1998)

a. Extra-judicial killings

b. Extra-Judicial deprivation of the liberty of people, specially in villages including;
i. Grouping
ii. Illegal imposition of curfew
iii. Long periods of detention at army posts and camps
iv. Use of churches and schools as detention or interrogation centres
v. Setting up of illegal interrogation centres
vi. Rape, molestation and sexual harassment of women
vii. Forced labour
viii. Looting of homes
ix. Desecration of places of worship, specially churches
x. Torture which is mainly carried out with a view to extract confessions which is a serious crime under section 330 and 331 of the Indian Penal Code. The torture includes, beating with rifle butts, kicking with boots and hitting with blunt weapons, giving electric shocks, breaking limbs, depriving person of food drinks and sleep, hanging a person upside down and beating on soles, burying a person alive, stripping, blindfolding and hooding, stuffing chilli powder into eyes, nose and private parts, tying of hands and feet and suspending a person over fire with a bamboo in between the hands and legs, threats to shot, interrogation at gun point.

However, these reports do not include killings through fake-encounters, which almost became a daily practice in Imphal valley in the recent times, so also in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of North east India, including the many parts of the “so-called” mainland India wherever social, economic and political conflict persists. There are also so many practices of harassments like checking and frisking, interrogations on the streets, etc. which need not be discussed in details.

Nevertheless, based on the foundation of such experiences, even before the AFSPA was enacted in 1958, for the Nagas, the Assam Maintenance of Public Order of 1953 was enough to raze our entire villages to ashes. And even after AFSPA was enforced, another Act called the Nagaland Security Regulation of 1962 was passed. These were subsequently followed by the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, in 1972, Maintenance of Internal security Act (MISA) under Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975 and so on. Needless to describe, but the sufferings of the people were just too much to bear even for people who were mere witnesses.

Under such circumstances it is only natural that Civil Rights Movements are launched. Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) is one such Civil Rights Movement in Nagaland which was formed in 1978 to respond to the need of the time. Similarly, in the context of the North East as a whole, we also had the North East Coordination Committee on Human Rights (NECOHR). When Oinam incident took place in 1987, Civil Rights groups of Manipur came together and formed the Coordination Committee on Oinam Issue (COCOI).

Likewise in the backdrop of heightened violence in Imphal Valley in the 70s and 80s, various likeminded people from different background came together to take up human rights issues under the banner of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Organisations (CLAHRO). There was also another umbrella organisation called the Coordination Committee on Human Rights (COHR) consisting of various communities of Manipur, like Kukis, Meiteis and Nagas etc. and jointly defended the civil population of Manipur from the excessiveness of the Security forces. And of course now we have the Human Rights Alert (HRA) and others which I may not be well aware of.

But if we are to move “towards a life with dignity” to confront those mechanism which strips us of our dignity and our very life itself, civil rights movements must be strengthened at all cost, although we must acknowledge, whether for good or for bad, armed resistances have played its own share of restoring dignity. Because in the absence of any strong Civil Rights Movement no Government will listen to the pleadings of “suffering souls” as long as they can comfortably remain in their respective powers.

Therefore, the main challenge before us today is to question ourselves, how we can build a strong Civil Rights Movement. Even now we do have many such movements which are all strong in their own ways, but are fragmented in terms of team-work. If our visions are common and if we can live and work on those ethics together, at least on common issues, I see no reasons why we cannot have good team-work.

Let me end this presentation with an analysis as a footnote which say; “The Armed Forces Special Powers Act contravenes both Indian and International law standards. This was exemplified when India presented its second periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1991. Members of the UNHRC asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA, questioning how the AFSPA could be deemed constitutional under Indian law and how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the ICCPR.

The Attorney General of India relied on the sole argument that the AFSPA is a necessary measure to prevent the secession of the North Eastern states. He said that a response to this agitation for secession in the North East had to be done on a “war footing.” He argued that the Indian Constitution, in Article 355, made it the duty of the Central Government to protect the states from internal disturbance and that there is no duty under international law to allow secession”.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest” – Ella Baker (An African-American civil rights leader).

Sanhati, November 15, 2010