The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is an inglorious piece of legislation that has remained as a blot on our democracy for too long. It is indeed paradoxical for Indians to talk about our country being the world’s largest democracy, and yet to countence a Draconian law like the AFSPA for so long. The AFSPA permits a soldier of the rank of lance ik (or equivalent rank in the Air Force and vy) to shoot and kill any person on the mere suspicion that he is indulging in anti-tiol activities. He does not have to take any steps to substantiate his suspicion. In fact, when he discovers later on that he was wrong and that he had taken the life of an innocent man by mistake, there is no trial for him. And since everyone in the armed forces is not a saint, there can be (and have been) many instances of the AFSPA having been misused. Once someone in the armed forces has killed an innocent citizen by mistake—or deliberately—all that is needed to be done is to place an unlicensed weapon and some incrimiting documents on the dead body and claim that he was an anti-tiol entity. The fact that the law is in force only in some of the States of India is clear indication of the kind of discrimitory approach the lawmakers have even to human life in the country. It is a way of saying that even human life in India cannot be treated as being equal in India. Human lives of some States are more expendable than human lives elsewhere. This charge of discrimition in a democracy will doubtless be countered with the argument that people of some States are more prone to terrorist or insurgent activity, and that therefore they pose a major threat to the security of the armed forces in those States. One can easily counter this argument by asking our rulers to identify any State in India where insurgent or terrorist activity has never taken place. With the emergence of the Maoists, a heavy toll of our security forces has been taken in several States where the AFSPA is not in force. Would bringing the entire country under the AFSPA umbrella be the remedy to this situation?
The AFSPA is deemed necessary for the security of the armed forces in some of our States because these States are the least developed and the imagined hazard of insurgent or terrorist activity looms large in such States. In fact, some of the States like Assam are so underdeveloped that terrorism has emerged as a kind of business. This imbalance of development and progress (however loudly Tarun Gogoi may talk about the ‘development’ brought about during his rule of 15 years) is the outcome of the neglect that the State suffered at the hands of politicians who were more concerned about their own ‘development’ than the development of the State. People know that there has never been any real dearth of funds for development but that such funds have gone into private coffers rather than into development projects. It is political situations like these that have created a bizarre reversal of roles. In every democracy there is the legitimate expectation that the armed forces exist for the security of the country and its people. No one logically expects the country to have laws that ensure the protection of the protectors. But this is what the AFSPA is expected to do. So, with the AFSPA in place to protect the protector, the armed constituents of the armed forces can take on urmed citizens, shoot them down, and subsequently claim that they were anti-tiol elements by foisting the necessary evidence on the dead bodies, when the deceased are in no position to defend themselves or say that the weapons and/or documents foisted on them were not theirs. How bizarre can the legal provisions be allowed to become? We need political parties that will cease to be ambiguous about the AFSPA and work actively towards the scrapping it. After all, most occupations also have occupatiol hazards, and the armed forces must be prepared to accept their brand of occupatiol hazards.