AFSPA Extended in Arunachal Pradesh

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For years, protests have erupted in the northeast, asking that the AFSPA be repealed in its entirety due to its “draconian” features.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was extended in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh by the national government on Friday.

The Union home ministry issued a notice declaring Tirap, Changland, and Longding districts, as well as regions under Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations bordering Assam, as ‘disturbed areas’ under the AFSPA from April to September 30, unless removed before.

After decades, the Centre decided to lower the disturbed areas under the AFSPA in Nagaland, Assam, and Manipur, according to Union home minister Amit Shah.

“The decrease in AFSPA regions has occurred as a consequence of better security and rapid development as a result of constant efforts and many agreements by the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to end insurgency and establish sustainable peace in the North-East,” Shah said in a tweet. 

PM Modi’s “unwavering resolve” to usher in a new age of peace in the northeast was praised by the home minister. “The neglected North-Eastern area is now experiencing a new period of peace, ty, and unparalleled growth,” he remarked.

After the killing of 14 people in an army operation in Nagaland in December 2021, the Centre formed a high-level committee to look into the possibilities of removing AFSPA in the state.

What does AFSPA stand for? 

In plain English, AFSPA empowers military troops to protect public order in “disturbed regions.”

If they believe a person is breaking the law, they have the ability to prevent a gathering of five or more people in a certain location, use force, or even open fire after providing fair notice.

The army can also arrest a person without a warrant, enter or search a place without a warrant, and prohibit the possession of guns if probable suspicion exists.

What is the history of AFSPA? 

The Act was enacted decades ago as a result of rising violence in the Northeastern States, which state governments found difficult to regulate.

On September 11, 1958, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and signed by the President. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 was the name given to it.

Which states are, or were, covered by the Act? 

It covers all of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (with the exception of seven Imphal assembly seats) and portions of Arunachal Pradesh. On April 1, 2018, the Centre cancelled it in Meghalaya.

Previously, the AFSPA only applied to a 20-kilometre stretch of the Assam-Meghalaya border. In Arunachal Pradesh, the impact of AFSPA was decreased from 16 to eight police stations in the bordering districts of Tirap, Longding, and Changlang. 

In 2015, Tripura withdrew from the AFSPA. A comparable Act exists in Jammu & Kashmir.

AFSPA vs Human Rights  

It’s been a contentious issue, with human rights organizations condemning it as being too forceful. Irom Sharmila of Manipur has been one of its most vocal critics, embarking on a hunger strike in November 2000 and keeping watch until August 2016.

Her inspiration came from an occurrence in the Manipur village of Malom, where 10 people were slain while waiting for a bus.

On World Human Rights Day last year; a report published by Outlook had briefly explained various incidents in which various innocent people were killed by the army:

1. The Massacre of Malom 

Irom Sharmila of Manipur, one of the most outspoken opponents of AFSPA, embarked on a hunger strike after ten people were killed while waiting for a bus in Malom, Manipur. The ‘Malon slaughter’ became well-known as a result of the tragedy. 

These ten people were killed by the 8th Assam Rifles at Malom Makha Leikai, near Imphal’s Tulihal airport, in November 2000.

However, it was eventually revealed that the meeting was a hoax. While the army claimed that an encounter was taking place after the convoy was attacked by radicals, the Manipur High Court found that no such occurrences had occurred.

2. Fake Assam Encounter in 1994 

Following the murder of Rameshwar Singh, the general manager of the Assam Frontier Tea Limited at the Talap Tea Estate, troops of the 18 Punjab regiment located at Dhola in Tinsukia took up nine youngsters from their houses in Tinsukia district’s Talap region in February 1994.

Gunmen from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) are said to have slain Singh. The citizens were apprehended without any form of identity verification.

Following reports of the missing individuals, a habeas corpus petition was filed in the Gauhati High Court. The special forces freed four prisoners after a court ruling, but the other five were brought on boats to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and shot.

The boatmen were also said to be untraceable. The five guys were cruelly tortured before being executed, according to post-mortem findings. Seven accused individuals were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2018.

3. Fake Sophian Encounter 

The Amshipora killings, also known as the Sophian false encounter, occurred in Amshipora village, Sophian district, Jammu and Kashmir, when three Kashmiri labourers, one of whom was a juvenile, were killed by Indian military forces.

On July 18, 2020, the military forces claimed to have received information regarding the presence of terrorists in South Kashmir’s Sophian area and hence carried out the operation.

However, the relatives of the Rajouri district victims eventually acknowledged that they were innocent labourers, not militants. 

The same was confirmed when medical tests were performed on the dead. Two Army troops were arrested after the event, and one was imprisoned under relevant provisions of the law.

4. Mon Incident

Following the law, special troops in Nagaland’s Mon area murdered 14 unarmed people on December 6. Six persons were killed on the spot when security officers opened fire on a vehicle transporting eight coal miners.

After the dead were discovered, skirmishes between the troops and the locals erupted, killing eight additional people and wounding at least 14 more.

According to a Nagaland Police investigation, the Army made no attempt to determine the identification of the persons aboard the vehicle before opening fire.

Mothers of Manipur

12 imas (mothers)  disrobed in front of the old Kangla Fort in the centre of Imphal — then the headquarters of the Assam Rifles — on July 15, 2004, and carried banners with red-painted slogans. One of the headlines said, “Indian Army Rape Us.” Another said, “Indian Army, Take Our Flesh.” 

The women were protesting the cruel assassination of Manorama Thangjam, a 32-year-old lady who had been taken up by Assam Rifles soldiers four days previously under questionable circumstances. 

A forensic examination detected sperm traces on her clothes, indicating she had been raped. A court panel established to investigate the matter offered a graphic picture of Manorama’s alleged abuse in her last hours.

Women are seen removing their clothes in front of the Kangla Fort and chanting “Rape us!” while beating their chests in footage from the 2004 protest. Ima Nganbi, now in her 70s, is outraged and shouts, “We are all Manorama’s mother!” “Rap us, murder us,” she said in English, “a language that the rest of the world and the Army would understand.”

No Sign of Justice Yet

The situation in Manipur has improved significantly, but no action has been taken against Manorama’s accused murders so yet. 

The Manipur High Court ordered a judicial probe into Manorama’s death shortly after her murder, and the Manorama Death Inquiry Commission was established in 2004, directed by the late C. Upendra Singh, a former district and sessions judge. 

The report’s findings, which were submitted in November 2004, were finally made public in 2014. The gunshots to her vagina “show not only the barbaric mentality but also their (the Assam Rifles’) attempt to produce false evidence with a view to cover up the offence done,” Singh added, calling the case “one of the most terrible” custody deaths in Manipur.

While the Assam Rifles said Manorama was an insurgent who was shot while attempting to leave arrest, their allegation has been widely questioned;

They claimed Manorama was wounded in the legs, but no bullet was recovered in her legs. The commission used her autopsy to say she was shot from the front as well, casting doubt on the “chase” narrative. 

The Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association Manipur was founded in 2009, and it has already identified 1,528 persons who were murdered or disappeared in similar circumstances between 1979 and 2012.

The CBI was ordered to probe the cases by the Supreme Court in 2017, but progress has been slow: just 39 FIRs and 13 charge sheets have been filed so far.

The Union government compensated Manorama’s family Rs 10 lakh in compensation in 2015 after the Supreme Court ordered it. The Army (which handles the Assam Rifles activities) was questioned by the court two years later about what was regarded as its silence on claims of rape and murder against its men. 

The Army told the court in April 2017 that an internal investigation had discovered certain “violations of laid-down process” in the Manorama case, according to The Hindu.

However, the Army lawyer allegedly told the court that the Manorama operation was based on legitimate intelligence and that the force was not opposed to a high-ranking commander conducting an investigation.

The Army had begun a court of inquiry into the issue in October 2018, according to The Week, but the hearings were yet to commence.

ThePrint contacted an Assam Rifles spokesperson in charge of operations and media, who declined to comment on the progress of the internal investigation — if there is one — and the claimed security personnel trips to the imas. 

“It’s vital to remember Manorama’s horrible rape and murder, as well as our protest because justice has yet to be served after all these years.” “Compensation isn’t enough,” Nganbi remarked, adding, “I’m dressed right now, but only in name.” My outrage is as raw and visceral as it was on that day.”

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