Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act!

The Communist Ghadar Party of India demands the repeal of the fascist Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

The Communist Ghadar Party of India demands the repeal of the fascist Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

AFSPA provides legitimacy to the Armed Forces to crush people under its jackboots. The lives of the people of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Kashmir have been brutalised as a result of the unbridled rule of the Armed Forces for decades. The Armed Forces have raped, murdered, tortured and plundered at will in all these states of the Indian Union, under cover of this Act.

The origin of the Act lies in the Armed Forces (Assam-Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance passed on 22 May 1958, just days after the Budget Session of Parliament was over. A bill was introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament that year and promptly passed effective retrospectively from 22 May 1958. It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India. They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. In 1990, a similar act was promulgated for Kashmir.

Why was the Armed Forces Special Powers Act passed by the Nehru government in the first place? The reason lies in the refusal of the Indian state to break with the colonial legacy and address the political demands of the Naga people, as well as other peoples of North East.

The British colonialists had conquered these peoples by force. The peoples of this region waged many powerful struggles against colonial rule and never submitted to it. When colonial rule came to an end, and the independent states of India and Pakistan emerged, the Nagas and Manipuris also declared independence. However this was not acceptable to the Indian ruling class. The Indian state sent the armed forces against the Nagas right at the time of independence. It threatened the King of Manipur into acceding to the Indian Union. It treated the entire North East as a colony, and refused to address the legitimate political demands of the people of the region. This meant a continuation of the colonial policy of plundering the labour and natural resources belonging to the peoples of this region, and treating the peoples of this region in the same way as the colonialists treated us. The AFSPA was thus passed to legitimise colonial rule of the North East by the Indian ruling class. It was a declaration that the Indian state will crush by brute force, the assertion of their right to self determination by the peoples of the region. In 1990, when the people of Kashmir rose in revolt, demanding aazadi, the Army was deployed to crush the revolt and AFSPA was passed by the parliament for the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is not acceptable that political demands raised by any section of our people are dealt with as "law and order" problems, and the people crushed using the armed forces. It is not acceptable that any section of our people is deprived of their human, democratic and national rights, using the pretext of "defending national unity and territorial integrity", and fighting "terrorism, secessionism, and insurgency".

The Indian ruling class has worked out a method of establishing civilian governments in the North East and Kashmir, which allegedly prove its commitment to "democracy". In reality, in these states it is the Armed Forces which rule, and the civilian governments have little or no say. Even ministers in these states are routinely humiliated, their homes are raided, and they are subjected to body searches by army personnel.

The Central Government is supposed to consult the Chief Ministers of these states before declaring a district or the whole state as "disturbed". Only when an area or state is declared "disturbed" can the AFSPA apply. In practice, the views of the state government do not count. It is the view of the Army Commanders and the Central Government that counts. Thus, the question of whether Nagaland should continue to be a "disturbed area" came up in May 2011. The Nagaland Chief Minister advised the Center to revoke the "disturbed area" status of Nagaland, as peace talks were in progress between the Center and Naga insurgent groups. The Center overruled his view. Nagaland continues to be a "disturbed area" and Army rule continues, backed by AFSPA.

Recently, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah has declared that certain districts of Kashmir Valley, including Srinagar, will be removed from the "disturbed areas" list. Immediately, there has been public opposition to this from the Army Commander in Kashmir. It remains to be seen whether the Central Government will go by the view of the Army Commander or of the Chief Minister.

The issue is not just declaring an area "disturbed" or not. The center can remove this or that district from the "disturbed areas" list, even for narrow political aims. It can also bring these districts back into the list at a later date. On the ground, the armed forces continue to rule, as the example of Manipur reveals. In Manipur, after massive protests following the rape and murder of Manorama Devi by army personnel, the Central government removed Imphal from the list of Disturbed areas. Officially, AFSPA did not hold any longer. But this has not made any difference on the ground, as the army continues to terrorise and suppress the civilian population. The issue therefore is the repeal of this fascist law called AFSPA, and withdrawal of the armed forces into the barracks, where they belong in the first place.

The demand for repeal of AFSPA has been consistently raised by our Party as well as all organisations and individuals who uphold human, democratic and national rights. At the height of mass anti-AFSPA protests all over the country in 2004, in the wake of the rape and murder of Manorama Devi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came under public pressure to appoint a National Review Committee (NRC) on AFSPA. The mandate of the NRC headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy was only to suggest amendments to this Act and possible replacement of AFSPA with some other act. Thus the recommendation to repeal the Act was not even in the terms of reference of the committee. The committee submitted its Report in June 2005 but the Report has not been made public for the past six years. Based on a leak of the Report, it is believed that the NRC could not ignore the strength of evidence of atrocities committed under the Act and has unanimously recommended the repeal of the Act.

There is no justification for use of armed forces against civilian population. The experience of army rule in Kashmir and North East confirms that army rule has not solved any problem. It has made life a living hell for the people. In all the areas of army rule, the civilian governments have no power, and very little credibility. The armed forces, far from being considered as protectors, are considered as murderers, marauders and plunderers. This has increased the alienation of the people towards the present Indian Union. Far from being a factor for national unity, as propagandists for army rule make out, the reality is that army rule and AFSPA are major factors contributing to the opposite.

It is a fact that the armed forces have developed a vested interest in continuing to rule in the North East and Kashmir. The generals and commanders will oppose tooth and nail, any move that will threaten their rule.

The working class, peasantry and the revolutionary intelligentsia are demanding Navnirman of our state and society to ensure empowerment of people and extension of democracy. We are demanding that our Indian Union be reconstituted as a voluntary union of nations and peoples. We are demanding that sovereignty, the decision making power, vests in the people and their collectives. We are demanding fundamental changes in the Constitution, and in the political system and process to ensure the same.

Within this situation, we must confront the hard reality that the peoples of Kashmir and the North East, wherever the army rules and AFSPA is in place, do not have even the limited democratic rights as enjoyed by the rest of country. The struggle of the people of these regions is a part of our common struggle for empowerment. We communists and all democratic forces of our country must boldly demand repeal of AFSPA and fight for the reconstitution of the Indian Union as a voluntary union of nations and peoples. Communists and democratic forces in Kashmir and North East must take up the struggle for the renewal of democracy and reconstitution of the Indian Union, i.e. for the Navnirman of India, as their own. This is how we will smash the efforts of the ruling class to continue army rule and AFSPA and deprive our people of the right to decide their own future.

Fascist provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act

Any officer, including non-commissioned like Naik or Havaldar, can issue orders of ‘shoot to kill’ (Section 4a). Security forces have the powers to enter and search any place without a warrant (Section 4d). They can apprehend anyone under suspicion from anywhere, even from the roadside. They can carry out midnight knock on any door and arrest anyone without a warrant and use any amount of force "necessary to effect the arrest" (Section 4c).

There is no time period specified by which the arrested person is to be brought before the magistrate. The Act merely says that the arrested person must be handed over to the nearest police station with the "least possible delay" without specifying what this delay may be, thus permitting arbitrary detention (Section 5).

If personnel of SF are required to appear before any probe committee, prior concurrence of the respective ministries, like the ministry of defense or the ministry of home affairs are required (Section 6). Thus the victims of the armed forces abuses have no remedy available.

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