The recent decision of the Union Home Ministry expressing its readiness for a partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from BJP-ruled Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, following an improvement of security situation in these two states, has satisfied a sizable section of the indigenous people.
The entire state of Assam has been under the Act since November 1990, while the three districts of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam and 16 other police stations limits have been under it since January 2016.
The BJP had earlier opposed its withdrawal as it is likely to provide a fillip to the activities of the extremist groups in the region. However, the efficacy of the act in controlling insurgency-related disturbances has never been fully established. Any discussion on this piece of legislation often evokes extreme feelings on both the sides.
While the Indian Army feels that without AFSPA, containing insurgency is virtually impossible, many civil rights activists and human rights organisations have been demanding for its repeal for the last several years. They feel the carte blanche guaranteed by the act to the armed forces ends up alienating the people more, which ultimately compounds and complicates the main problem.
But it was Irom Sharmila's untiring struggle for 16 long years which caught the attention of the whole world about the continued use of this draconian law against its own people. The fight of the Iron Lady of Manipur started in the sleepy town of Malom in the first week of November 2000, when ten civilians were ruthlessly gunned down allegedly by the Assam Rifles personnel, emboldened by the immunity guaranteed by the AFSPA.
That horrific incident had severely rattled the mind of the young poetess. And perhaps, on an impulse, she took a decision which was destined to make her world famous in the coming years. Sharmila started a fast unto death demanding a repeal of that repressive act which grants unrestrained powers to the Indian security agencies in the name of tackling militancy in the 'disturbed areas' of the country.
Although the main objective of her fight has remained unfinished, its partial withdrawal is also expected to reduce the intensity of pain and disaffection in the minds of a large section of the indigenous population.
The conscious citizens of the North Eastern hardly lament the fact that their region lies in the geographical periphery of the country. But the same people feel deeply dismayed when they find that their region has to really struggle hard to remain within the periphery of national imagination.
There are instances galore since Independence when the otherness of this region, instead of being celebrated in the true spirit of diversity and pluralism, is rather used to diminish and decimate the underlying sentiment of local pride and glory. This is the prevailing mindset among a large section of the people now.
The recent incident at the Delhi Golf Club where a Khasi lady, Tailin Lyngdoh, was unceremoniously told to leave the premises because of her different looks and unconventional dress (she was wearing a traditional Khasi dress, Jainsem) speaks volumes about the level of ignorance of the club authority about the sartorial and anthropological diversity of India. The hint of superiority, elitist bias and unabashed prejudice in the behaviour and statements of the club authority is too palpable to miss in the whole incident.
However, after the home ministry's decision, many people have expressed optimism about the possibility of improvement of the relationship between the north easterners and the people from mainland India. The responsibility for sustaining that spirit rests on both the Central government and civil society groups functioning in those states.
Instead of going for a hair-splitting analysis to blame either the security agencies or the numerous insurgent outfits of the region, the civil society groups should use all their influence to painstakingly build up an atmosphere of peace and fraternal feelings in the larger interest of the development of the region.
Time has come to relinquish the long-standing 'chicken and the egg' debate – whether the state terrorism is responsible for non-state terrorism or vice versa, as it is going to only intensify acrimony among all the parties.
Sober public opinion in both the states wants the security agencies to be more discreet and guarded in their approach as their unrestrained actions on many occasions in the past have drawn flak from various Commissions as well as the Supreme Court of India. While probing six encounter deaths in Manipur in 2013, the N Santosh Hegde Commission found that none of the victims had any criminal record.
The Hegde Commission had retired Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh as a member. They wanted the act to be more humane and have greater accountability for the security personnel. The Commission also felt that AFSPA is more of an obstruction to achieving peace in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.
Earlier, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission had recommended its repeal as it is, in their words, 'a symbol of hate, oppression and instrument of high-handedness'. The Supreme Court was visibly concerned about the misuse of the act by the security agencies in order to unleash terror among common people. The apex court said any encounter carried out by the armed forces under AFSPA should be subjected to a thorough enquiry.
In the backdrop of all these, the decision for partial withdrawal of the AFSPA possibly signifies moderate desire of the Government of India to read the writing on the walls without getting swayed solely by the opinion of the armed forces. No doubt, the improvement of the law and order situation in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the recent times helped them take the decision. But instead of solely depending on the State, the common citizens, civil society organisations and human rights groups should join hands to give peace a chance. It is the least people genuinely deserve in both the states.
The author tweets @mayurbora07
Updated Date: Jul 06, 2017 11:28 AM