The mere mention of armed forces evokes the image of courage, bravery and discipline in India. However, in north-east India and Jammu and Kashmir, the picture is vastly altered. Military force is synonymous with fear, brutality and suspicion. The main reason behind this contradictory public image is the “draconian” law, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. It has vested the armed forces with absolute power mainly to aid fight against terrorism and insurgency. Several unprovoked arrests, tortures, rapes and deaths go unnoticed under the wraps of AFSPA.Unmarked graves have been found in the valley. Fake encounters and disappearances make headlines. At times, it is a case of mistaken identity. Violence in Jammu and Kashmir has increased since implementation of AFSPA in 1990. Similar incidents are reported from the north-eastern states.
Jeevan Reddy Commission (2005) had recommended repealing AFSPA and bringing a humanitarian law in place. However, no concrete steps have been taken by the central government till now. In areas where normalcy has been restored, AFSPA needs to be repealed entirely. Army presence without AFSPA can ensure law and order in those areas. 7 districts of Manipur are exempt from AFSPA as of now and largely, no untoward incidents have occurred in the region. Other recommendations include incorporating a few clauses of AFSPA to Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 which is applicable throughout the country. It can effectively counter Naxalist movement arising in parts of India.
In cases where armed forces need to be vested with special powers to maintain law and order, certain humanitarian changes need to be made to AFSPA. The detention period after (forceful) arrest should be modified to a maximum period of 2 years (Justice Verma Committee recommendation). Sexual crimes against women in particular cannot be condoned as a part of duty towards national security. No central government sanction requirements should be retained to initiate proceedings against public servants or army personnel alleged of crimes like rape.
The main deterrent against “humanization of AFSPA” is army resistance. The defense chief whips need to re-evaluate their stance. National security cannot be compromised with. So with human rights. The armed forces need to reinforce trust and faith amongst people of Jammu and Kashmir and north eastern states. The young mass should be mobilized and engaged in constructive pursuits instead of being suspected as traitors in their own country. Women must be treated with dignity at all times. All of this is much easier said than done. Beneath the tough façade of the army, there lies a flawed human – very much like us. Suitable arrangements (like psychotherapy sessions, etc) should be made in order to maintain a healthy mental balance of our soldiers. Most of them suffer bouts of depression and emotional turbulences. Government, armed forces and the people in general must aim to bring in peace and harmony. This is vital to ensure functioning of a successful democracy.