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Beneath the trappings of AFSPA

Beneath the trappings of AFSPA

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is a collective of immunity granted to the Indian Armed Forces operating in "disturbed areas" in case of action. As per the Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976, once declared 'disturbed', the area must maintain the status quo for at least 3 months. Such an Act was passed on September 11, 1958, and was applicable to the Naga Hills, then part of Assam. It eventually made its way to the Seven Sister of the Northeast in the following decades and is currently in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (excluding Imphal municipal council area), and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Another such law passed in 1983 and applicable to Punjab and Chandigarh was withdrawn in 1997, roughly 14 years after it came to force. The Act passed in 1990 to be applied in Jammu and Kashmir has been in force since. This act has attracted criticism from politicians, activists, intellectuals and common people alike. While many advocate revocation of it, some assert against its revocation, basically for the purpose of security. It must be understood here that since these powers (granted without impunity) are very specific in their areas and situation of implementation, more than questioning AFSPA per se, it is the prolonged existence of it in a place that should be questioned. The pre-condition to AFSPA is the "disturbed area". Disturbance in an area starts with the lapse of law and order in the concerned state. If the disturbance in the state is made to exist for longer than explainable, it is not right to blame AFSPA for the compounded situation. But as must much as this is the case, it is also as much a fact that just AFSPA by itself has added dimensions of complications to the areas where they are operational and have caused the place to become even more disturbed, and specifically in a way that common people have a deep-seated resentment against it and are largely just anti-security forces. AFSPA in the northeast is as much a menace as it is in Jammu and Kashmir but given the dynamics with the respective neighbours; AFSPA in Kashmir garners more national attention owing to Pakistan, the baby of the superpowers, strategically against India. With respect to this highlight, as against the special status of the state (Article 370), it is AFSPA that is more detrimental to the strategic region. The electoral distractions of repealing Article 370 will do little to qualitatively integrate Jammu and Kashmir (specifically the Kashmir valley region) with mainland India; but the perpetuation of AFSPA, which is most often against the common people in implementation than it is for the targeted purpose, has been proven time and again to be an instrument of alienation.

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