The Justice Verma Commission has said in unequivocal
terms that security persons who rape women should be judged under the same act
that applies to the civilians.
similar stand has been taken by others. In 2005, the Jeevan Reddy Commission
said that AFSPA should be repealed and the clauses that are required should be
included in other Acts. Mr R. N. Ravi, former head of the Intelligence Bureau
for the North East is on record that AFSPA is the biggest obstacle to peace in
the region. Former Home Secretary Mr G. K. Pillai has come out openly against
the Act. These statements are not emotional outbursts. They come from persons
who have worked in the system and know the dynamics of the Act and of running
But the army is opposing even this change.
What is their rationale for thinking that security persons who rape
innocent women should enjoy impunity in the name of national security?
For whose security was the law enacted, for that of the country or of
the criminals in uniform? Whenever some change is suggested in the Act
the army seems to oppose it and the civilian government buckles under
its pressure. For example, when the Jeevan Commission appointed to
inquire into the alleged rape and murder of 30-year old Manorama Devi of
Imphal in Manipur arrested by the Assam Rifles suggested that the law
should be repealed and the clauses that are required should be
integrated with other All India laws the Government did not even publish
the report. The Hindu procured it “illegally” and uploaded it on
After the Verma Commission Report said
that security persons who rape women should be tried under the civilian
law, the Union Law Minister said in an interview on NDTV that there are
problems in implementing these suggestions. During a TV discussion
another Union minister said that because of its slow legal process the
public does not know the punishment meted out by the army. They did not
specify the constraints or the legal action taken. A search of the
records shows very few cases of trial leave alone of punishment. For
example, no action has been taken in the Manorama Devi case. On December
23, 2005 a group of university students entered a railway compartment at
Kokrajhar in Assam, not knowing that armed security persons from Haryana
were travelling in it. The jawans (Armed Soldiers of India) closed the
doors of the compartment and tried to molest the students. Alerted by
their shouts the Bodo student union stopped the train and tried to take
action on the jawans. The police opened fire on them and four students
died. No action has been taken till today.
One can give many more such instances that
have gone unreported or have been hushed up. In a recent case in Assam
the local people caught the jawan so the army promised action against
him. He was jailed for three months. People in Jammu and Kashmir speak
of a large number of women who have been violated but the armed forces
have gone unpunished. So the women live with a sense of shame. Some of
them testified before the Verma Commission and its recommendation stems
from their testimony. One is also told that the honour of the army is
involved and national security requires the law. In what way does lack
of action against rape protect the honour of the army?
One can question AFSPA even from the
security point of view. It was enacted in 1958 on an experimental basis
for six months as a measure against “terrorist” groups in the North
East. It was applied first in Nagaland, in 1980 in Manipur, later in
Jammu and Kashmir and over the decades in more areas of the North East.
What was enacted for six months has remained for more than five decades.
In 1958 there was one “terrorist” group in the North East. Manipur had
two groups when the State was brought under the Act. Today, Manipur has
more than twenty such groups, Assam has not less than fifteen, Meghalaya
has five of them and other States have more groups. How does the army
explain this proliferation of militant groups in spite of the Act? Has
it served its purpose?
One is also told that the armed forces
will not be able to remain in the North East or Jammu and Kashmir if the
law is repealed. That is a lie. The army is deployed all over India
without such a law. Those who demand its repeal do not ask the army to
leave any region. They only want the armed forces to serve the country
under the Constitution without a law that allows abuses with impunity.
There is no reason why a rapist or murderer should have a separate law
only because he belongs to the armed forces. Take for granted for a
moment that all the women whom they rape are terrorists. Why should they
be raped? Why can they not be dealt with under the law of the land?
These actions do not add to the honour of the armed forces or to the
security of India. They only violate people’s right to a life with
dignity and cannot be justified in a democratic country.
Civilians have been
elected to rule the country. They have a duty to ensure that the
security forces work under the Constitution. The problems in the North
East and in Kashmir should be solved through a political process and not
through a law that violates people’s right to life and dignity with
impunity. They need confidence building measures (CBM) in order to move
towards peace with justice. What better CBM can one suggest than
repealing the AFSPA?
(Declaration: Original title given by the
author 'AFSPA: Who rules India?' is modified by HNF Editorial. The piece
was circulated by 'People's Media Advocacy & Resource Centre')
author is former director and a present Senior Fellow at North Eastern
Social Research Centre, Guwahati.]