Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Sunday said that the process of revoking the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act can be started on an “experimental basis”. But she clarified that this did not mean they want AFSPA to be “revoked immediately and in entirety”. “After revoking AFSPA in a few areas, we can assess the situation there. If successful, we can revoke it in entirety,” Mufti said. She made the statement after meeting Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to review the situation in the state, which has been in a state of unrest and seen clashes since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. India’s history, post-Independence, has seen a slew of draconian laws, which include the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), Public Safety Act (PSA), and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. However, among all them, it is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has captured the most attention. It contains provisions that violate Constitutionally conferred Fundamental Rights. Key provisions in the act allow security forces to shoot on sight, arrest anybody without a warrant, and carry out searches without consent. Members of the various security forces, primarily the army, undertake these acts with the knowledge that they will not face any legal action for operations conducted under the act. Legal experts and human rights organisations have demanded a comprehensive review of the act on a repeated basis.
The act falls short of the established norms of natural justice, such as equality before the law, the right of the accused of appearance before a Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, a fair trial in a public court and access to competent legal counsel, among others. In a scathing critique of AFSPA, noted columnist Mukul Kesavan presented an important argument. “Indians committed to the nation’s territorial integrity need to recognise that a democratic republic’s claim on its constituent territories is, in the last instance, under-written by consent. Unless the republic creates the conditions for earning that consent by withdrawing AFSPA and returning the army to its barracks, it runs the risk of permanently damaging its claim to political legitimacy. Without legitimacy, governance shades into occupation,” he said. To give our fellow brothers and sisters a sense of belonging to the Indian Union as citizens, Parliament must initiate steps to revoke AFSPA from the strife-torn region.