AFSPA stands for Armed forces special power act. True to the name, this Act gives special powers to the Indian Armed forces like a green flag for conducting operations anywhere, entering premises, destroying structures, and searching and arresting civilians without a warrant. These powers are available to the Indian armed forces because of AFSPA but only in disturbed areas of India. The governor of a state decides on a disturbed area under section 3 of this Act. After a region has been declared disturbed, the Union government imposes AFSPA. The Union of India passed the Armed Forces Special Power Act in 1958. It was applied to all north-eastern states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura, to maintain law and order. The government believed these states were not equipped to deal with the disturbances they were facing. However, the result has been the legitimization of violence and the brutalization of the security forces. Three fundamental dynamics—violence inspiring more violence, brutality undermining ideology, and state-sanctioned terror encouraging contempt for non-violent solutions—have set in motion a deadly cycle.
In 1949 when Manipur merged with India, many insurgent groups began demanding a separate state. Other ethnic groups in Manipur started a separatist campaign against their state joining the Indian Union in 1949, while Naga tribes in Manipur supported the Naga armed uprising. In 1951 the Naga National Council claimed to have conducted a plebiscite that stated that 99% of people had voted for a free sovereign Naga state. In 1952 when India’s first general elections were being conducted, the Nagas boycotted the polls and government schools and officials. Hence, we can see that there were rebellions in the northeast and insurgencies. Tripura shares an 856 kms border with Bangladesh, and then there was a rise in separatist activities in the 1990s with the assumption that elements of Bangladesh trained them. In Assam, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) kept the state disturbed with assassination, drug trafficking, and extortions. By 1979 the illegal migrant issue became a significant problem when it became clear that the number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh had become voters. In 1979 the elections could not be held because there were problems in making electoral rolls, and in some cases, the candidates were not allowed to file their nomination papers. There were state-wise closures and agitations before the government offices, and the agitators blocked the movement of trains and oil supply to Assam.
AFSPA – A draconian law
It was in this backdrop that AFSA was put into force. The law state that this has to be reviewed after every six months. Therefore, it was reviewed, and ever since, it stayed. In 1985 AFSPA was also imposed on the state of Punjab in India during the Khalistan movement. On 1990 it was implemented in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir to battle terrorism and insurgency. Over the years, this Act has been withdrawn from most states except Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Parts of Arunachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. This Act allows the armies to commit atrocities and gives unchecked powers to the hands of the armies. The critics say that AFSPA made the army immune from prosecution as they cannot be dragged to court even if there are civilian deaths. Children in Assam have faced sexual violence by the armed forces. On February 7, 2005, an Assam Rifleman raped a 12-year-old girl in Karbi Anglong. Medical examinations revealed that the abuse continued even after the child took sleeping pills to put them to sleep. The Extra-judicial Execution Victim Families Association, Manipur (EEVFAM), an organization of widows and mothers of those killed in “encounters” with security forces, appealed to the Supreme Court of India in July 2012 on behalf of the innocent people killed by police commandos and security forces like the Assam Rifles under cover of the immunity provisions of AFSPA. Neena Ningombam served as the organization’s secretary. Irom Sharmila, an activist, started a 16-year hunger fast in 2000 to protest the AFSPA in Manipur. The 1995 killings in Kohima city illustrate the tense atmosphere that has evolved in regions militarised under the AFSPA. Soldiers opened fire without warning after mistaking the sound of a tyre blowing for an explosive strike. The subsequent hour-long firing resulted in the deaths of seven civilians, including girls between the ages of three and eight. Additional 22 people, including seven children, suffered critical injuries. In December 2021, there was an operation where a group of daily waged labourers was killed in Nagaland because the army mistook them for terrorists. It was an anti-insurgency operation that went wrong again, reigniting the debate on AFSPA.
At the beginning of the year, home minister Amit Shah said that of Assam’s 33 districts, AFSPA had been repealed in 23 and only partially in one. Since 1990, the state has had the statute in place. According to him, the rule has also been repealed in territories covered by 15 police stations in six districts out of the sixteen districts of Manipur. In Nagaland, it will go in a phased manner; for now, seven of fifteen districts will cease to be disturbed areas This Draconian Act still exists in Kashmir and parts of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. From the very beginning, this Act directly the right to Life of people, and unquestionably there have been killing and human rights violations in North East and Kashmir. So, civilians are still living under the fear of not some attack by external aggression but rather attacks by their nation’s army. The AFSPA is a picture of mistreatment, repression, and prejudice. Its use and abuse have fuelled a cycle of horror and impunity and stoked militancy passions across the nation. To conclude, this Draconian Act should be abolished entirely from India.
Author(s) Name: Anuja Barooah (NMMS School of Law, Mumbai)
Uddipana Goswami, ‘Armed in Northeast India: special powers Act or no Act’ (2010) 4 (2), Peace and Conflict Review 1
Shastri Ramachandaran, ‘After 32 years, AFSPA withdrawn partially from Arunachal Pradesh’ (Wion, 2 April 2019) <https://www.wionews.com/india-news/after-32-years-afspa-withdrawn-partially-from-arunachal-pradesh-207471> accessed 6 August 2022
Dr Sailajananda Saikia, ‘9/11 of India – Acritical review on the armed forces special act (AFSPA) and Human Rights violation in the North East India’ (2014) 2 (1) Journal of Social Welfare and Human Rights 271
 Ibid at 272
IAS Drishti, ‘AFSPA and the northeast’ (DrishtiIAS, 1 April 2022) <https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/afspa-and-northeast> accessed 6 August 2022
Uddipana Goswami (n 1) at 274
BBC News, ‘AFSPA: Areas Under Draconian law reduced in India’s north-east’ (BBC, 1 April 2022) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-60950636> accessed 4th August 2022