Amidst the high demand of the people of India’s Northeast to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India (GOI) on December 30, 2021, extended the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the whole of Nagaland for another six months.
In a gazette notification issued on December 30, 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said: “Whereas the central government is of the opinion that the area comprising the whole of the state of Nagaland is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary.”
The notification added that “now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (No.28 of 1958) the central government hereby declares that whole of the state of Nagaland to be ‘disturbed area’ for a period of six months with effect from 30th December, 2021, for the purpose of the said Act.”
The extension of Disturbed Area Status under Section 3 of the AFSPA, 1958 to use armed forces in various parts of India’s Northeast is now obviously against the wish of the people of the region.
Because in the wake of Oting Massacre, besides condemnations against December 4 Oting Massacre people’s protests demanding repeal of AFSPA was far and wide in the Northeast and the movement against the AFSPA has renewed after Irom Chanu Sharmila ended her 16 years’ hunger strike demanding repeal of AFSPA ended on August 9, 2016.
In India’s Northeast particularly Manipur has had Heirangoithong massacre, Operation Bluebird (Oinam massacre), RMC massacre, Malom massacre etc besides raping and killing of a number of young women under AFSPA.
The people’s movement demanding repeal of the draconian AFSPA was in its height in 2004 with Apunba Lup, a conglomeration 34 civil society organisations of Manipur spearheaded the movement after the killing of Manorama by the Assam Rifles. After July 15, 2004 Nude protest by the 12 brave mothers, the Meira Paibis (women torch bearers) in front of the western gate of Kangla where the Assam Rifles had been occupying since the British left in 1947, the Disturbed Area Status under AFSPA from Imphal Municipal Area comprising seven Assembly Constituencies was withdrawn by the Government of Manipur when Okram Ibobi was the Chief Minister and the Assam Rifles also vacated Kangla. Kangla had been the palace of Manipur since 33 AD till the British occupied in 1891.
The people of India’s Northeast demand repeal of the AFSPA because the Act, which has been in force in India’s Northeast since 1958, which was originally made for Assam and Manipur, and extendable to the whole of the Northeast by further amendments, gives unbridled powers to the armed forces and the Central Armed Police Forces deployed in “disturbed areas” to kill anyone acting in contravention of law, arrest and search any premises without a warrant and protection from prosecution and legal suits without the sanction of the Government of India.
Both the Government of India and State governments have concurrent powers to issue a notification under Section 3 of the Act.
What shocks the people of the Northeast is the extension of Disturbed Area Status under Section 3 of AFSPA further suppressing the voice of the people against the draconian law, which is not applicable in the rest of the democratic India.
Even as the MHA on December 26, 2021 set up a high-level committee chaired by a Secretary-level officer to examine the possibility of withdrawing AFSPA from Nagaland and submit its report within 45 days, the Government of India on December 30 extended the imposition of the Act to use Armed Forces in the state for another six months.
The imposition of AFSPA in Nagaland was due to expire on December 31, as it was last extended in the state on June 30. AFSPA can be imposed in an area or a region for six months at a time, after which it has to be extended if the government deems it necessary.
However, in case of Manipur the Act has been continuously extended on yearly basis even with retrospective effect.
The Government of Manipur on December 8 issued a notification to extend the Act in the State, excluding the municipal areas of Imphal, for another year with retrospective effect from December 1. The order dated 8th December 2021 which was available in public domain on December 22 said “the Governor of Manipur is of the opinion that due to violent activities of various extremist/insurgent groups, the entire State of Manipur is in such a disturbed condition that the use of Armed Forces in aid of civil power is necessary.”
The order added, “in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (Act No.28 of 1958) as amended from time to time, the Governor of Manipur hereby accords ex-post facto approval to declare the entire State of Manipur excluding the Imphal Municipal Area as “Disturbed Area” for a period of 1(one) year with retrospective effect from December 1, 2021.”
It may be mentioned that the notification extending the AFSPA in Manipur has been issued by the Government of Manipur since 1980. In the last 40 years, the Government of India has not issued any notification declaring Disturbed Area Status under the Act for Manipur.
In the case of Assam, the Government of India issued the “disturbed area” order till 2017. Since then, the State has been renewing the notification every six months, with the latest order issued on September 10, 2021.
In the case of Arunachal Pradesh also, the Government of India issued the latest notification on October 1, 2021 declaring Disturbed Area in the districts of Tirap, Changlang, Longding and areas falling under the Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations bordering Assam under Section 3 of the AFSPA.
The Nagaland Assembly on December 20 unanimously adopted a resolution demanding the repeal of AFSPA, during a special session held in the aftermath of Oting Massacre in which 14 lives of civilians were killed by the Indian Security Forces on December 4, 2021.
Calls from India’s Northeast for repeal of AFSPA, which gives personnel of armed forces sweeping powers to arrest without warrants and even shoot to kill in certain situations, have been growing louder ever since the Oting Massacre in Nagaland’s Mon district. Massive protests have been held in the entire Northeast. Even the Nagaland State Cabinet also recommended for repeal of AFSPA.
The Nagaland Assembly resolution, which was adopted by a voice vote, was moved by Chief Minister Rio, who said the “entire Naga society” had been calling for AFSPA to be repealed. He said: “This House must sound the desire of the people. The desire of the people is to repeal this undemocratic and draconian law.”
It may be mentioned that the National People’s Party (NPP) MP from Meghalaya Agatha Sangma also moved in the Zero Hour of the recent Parliament session after the Oting Massacre to repeal AFSPA.
However, even when the people of the Northeast demand to repeal the inhuman, draconian and undemocratic Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958, the Government of India doesn’t bother about the democratic rights and wish of the people of the Northeast. Rather the Government of India moves ahead with its policy of using Armed Forces in the name of aiding civil administration.
Further imposition of AFSPA in India’s Northeast against the wish and voice of the people of the region will not only dehumanise the Northeast people but also further question Indian democracy in India’s Northeast.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics