Post Mortem

Naga national movement and AFSPA

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 7/9/2019 12:08:29 PM IST

 This piece of write up gives a brief historical background of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and its connection with Naga national movement.  Many educated Nagas may not be aware of the various special provisions given to Indian Armed forces under AFSPA and hence may lack knowledge of its colossal harmful effect on the daily life of common people. This is an (in) famous Act which gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to maintain law and order in the insurgent affected states of India. It is a legal mechanism to have the Indian Army operates not against external aggression, as is the normal duty of any army in the world, but in situations of civil insurrection. Applicable to the Seven Northeast states and Jammu and Kashmir, this Act becomes operational if any of these states or regions within the state has been declared as ‘disturbed’.  

The origins of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 can be traced to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1948. The latter in turn was enacted to replace four ordinances—the Bengal Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the Assam Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the East Bengal Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the United provinces Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance—invoked by the central government to deal with the internal security situation in the country in 1947. In fact, India inherited AFSPA from the colonial British Ordinance 1942. 

On August 15, 1942, the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared emergency all over British India and promulgated the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, 1942, conferring vaguely defined special powers to the armed forces to arrest and use force (even kill) civilians on mere suspicion. After India’s Independence, the Parliament modified the Ordinance in 1958 and thus born AFSPA. It was made harsher and more deceptive than the Ordinance. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance was promulgated all over British India but AFSPA was confined to the ethnically distinct North East region and Kashmir. AFSPA is in fact a racial and region specific law. 

According to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 in an area that is proclaimed as "disturbed", an officer of the armed forces has powers to,

 After giving such due warning, Fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order.

 Destroy any arms dump, hide-outs, prepared or fortified position or shelter or training camp from which armed attacks are made by the armed volunteers or armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence.

 To arrest without a warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest.

 To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it.

 Stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person or weapons.

 Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made present over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest.

 Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government's judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review.

Initially the Act was passed by Independent India to suppress the rebellion movement of the Naga people. The Naga National Council (NNC), in 1951, had conducted a plebiscite in which 99 percent of the Naga people voted for a “Free Sovereign Naga Nation.” Thereafter they boycotted the first General Election 1952 and later extended the boycott to the government schools and officials. Again, in 1953, the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and the Prime Minister of Burma U Nu visited Kohima. When the administration did not allow NNC to submit memorandum to the Prime Ministers, the fifteen thousand Naga assembled walked out of the Public meeting place. U Nu and Nehru were left to address only a handful of government servants. Nehru who had faced a humiliating experience, immediately issued arrest warrant against eight NNC leaders. The Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act of 1953 was promulgated in the Naga Hills District and sensitive areas were declared as “disturbed.” 

Following this order, the Assam Police and paramilitary forces began to arrest and torture many people at random. Properties were confiscated. Houses burnt down. Crops in the fields were destroyed. Wives and children of Naga leaders were arrested and jailed. Collective fines were imposed on entire villages and leaders from all villages were arrested and jailed. This forced many Naga leaders and their followers to go underground in order to avoid the harsh treatment of Indian armies that subsequently resulted to armed struggle movement of the Nagas. Thus the political freedom movement of the Naga tribes in the 1950s necessitated a progressive build-up of forces in the north-east, and by the end of the 1950s a division was tied down in guerrilla fighting in the Naga Hills. More units of the Indian Army were siphoned across from Punjab to the north-east. Thus militarisation begins in the north-east with Naga freedom movement and gradually spread to the whole parts of North East.  

When the Act was debated in the Parliament to impose in Manipur to deal with Meitei insurgency, the then two MPs from Manipur Mr. R. Suisa and Mr. Laishram Achaw Singh argued that this Act that gives blanket powers to the army would lead to the violation of Fundamental Rights of the people. The people of neighbouring Nagaland were already going through their worse time under AFSPA and other related black laws. Mr. Laishram Achaw Singh, said that “this measure is unnecessary and also unwarranted. I have found that these military authorities have always committed excesses in many cases, especially in the sub-divisions of Kohima and Mokokchung. Instead of rounding (up) the hostile Nagas, some military personnel trespassed into the houses of some retired tribal official and committed rape on the widow. So, such things have deteriorated the situation. The tribal people have risen against the military people there. It is, therefore, dangerous to invest the military authorities with extraordinary powers of killing and of arrest without warrant and of house breaking. I have got reports of the operations of the armed forces in these tribal sub-divisions of Manipur, especially in the sub-division of Tamenlong where these armed forces have by force occupied the religious institutions, in spite of the protests from the local people. Most of them are Christians there and hold their Churches sacred. But these armed forces would forcibly occupy these institutions. This piece of legislation violates democratic measure and also a reactionary one. This is a black law. This is also an act of provocation on the part of the Government. How can we imagine that these military officers should be allowed to shoot to kill and without warrant arrest and search? This is a lawless law.”

The independent India had framed various draconian laws to deal with terrorism. This includes Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA), the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). Each of this black law, when implemented, resulted in the oppression of the most under-privileged members of our society.  Almost all the black laws of the country have been repealed but AFSPA remains intact and continue to serve as a tool of the Indian armed forces. 

AFSPA that is being imposed in NEI and Jammu and Kashmir has alienated the people of these regions from the mainlanders. It is nothing less than a racial law. Even in the central India where a tribal leftist rebellion, popularly referred to as Maoist rebellion, is raging, and is considered to be ‘the greatest threat to India’s integrity since its independence’ AFSPA is not invoked.  It is certainly a specific area-targeted draconian law that forces people to live according to the dictum of armed forces. AFSPA has outlived its utility. It does not serve the interest of the civilian population nor does it fulfils the projected purpose of the state to contain insurgent movement in NEI. Imposition of AFSPA has made the armed forces the enemy of its own citizens. It manifests the weakness of the Indian state that no democratic solution/measure to replace the AFSPA has come about in the more than six decades the AFSPA has been in operation. Despite all these problems, a ray of hope can be seen through the Indo-Naga Peace talk. The Naga insurgent movement, being considered as the ‘mother of all insurgent movements’ in NEI and for which cause, AFSPA was primarily imposed, there is possibility of AFSPA being revoked in the entire NEI once the Indo-Naga talk concludes.  Hence, every peace loving citizen must help the Indo-Naga peace talk to come to its logical conclusion. The sooner, the better. 

Z K. Pahrü Pou 

BTC, Pfutsero 

References 

• Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/document/actandordinances/armed_forces_special_power_act_1958.htm, 

• Combat Law, “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – Repressive Law” in Combat Law, April –May 2003, 

• G. Baruah, “AFSPA As I See It”, in The Sangai Express, 

• AFSPA in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armed_Forces_(Special_Powers)_Act, 

• Kaka D. Iralu, The Naga Saga, Third Edition, 2009. Kohima: Kaka D. Iralu, 2009

• Odious Comparisons in Economic and Political Weekly, July 24, 2004, 

• Phanjoubam Tarapot, Insurgency Movement in North Eastern India, revised version. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1996

• Vivek Chadha ed. Armed Forces Special Powers Act: The Debate. New Delhi: Lancer’s Books, 2013

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