Thursday, October 21, 2010

Same Country, Same Laws

Of all the laws passed by the Indian Parliament in its over six decades of existence, none stands out darker and more against the spirit of the Founding Fathers of the nation as does the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA for short.

The Act was created in an amazingly short period of time and passed without much debate. But it's consequences were huge: suddenly, the entire North East (and later Jammu and Kashmir) became "disturbed" zones and the Army was given a free hand to do anything it deemed fit, so much so that a low-level jawan could shoot down anybody on the mere suspicion of him being a secessionist.

AFSPA's constitutional validity, although endorsed by the Supreme Court, remains a major question on ground. After much deliberation, habeas corpus was accepted as the only petition from these disturbed areas admissible in the Supreme Court. However, the North East just has one High Court (in Guwahati) and the Supreme Court is not easy to reach. Effectively, the people of the region have been locked into a state of partial military rule with no remedy despite the fact that they fall under the direct control of the Indian Constitution.

Irom C Sharmila has been under self-imposed hinger strike for the past decade, demanding that AFSPA be withdrawn. Because of her action,s the Imphal Municipal Area in Manipur is the inly area in the North East that is not covered by AFSPA. Still, her demand, as well as that of countless activists, is for total revocation of the Act. Irom Sharmila lies in hospital today, force-fed by New Delhi's men to keep her alive.

However, AFSPA remains a huge hurdle in the integration of the region with the Indian mainstream. The weak voice of the North East is often missed in the much louder Kashmiri rhetoric against the Act (which is often followed by calls for Azaadi, unlike in the North East). It is in the interest of national integration to annul the Act at least partly, and eventually wholly. We cannot conquer the hearts and minds of the people of the North East through force. They are Indians, just like you and me. For them to live in a separate, draconian system despite being full citizens is a failure of Indian democracy and civil society.

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