As the debate about the necessity of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) rages on in Manipur, new home ministry data has shown a startling increase in terrorist infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir in the first half of this year. The security establishment supports the continuation of AFSPA in insurgency-hit states. But on July 8, the Supreme Court—in an interim judgment on a 2012 petition seeking removal of AFSPA from Manipur—said indefinite deployment of armed forces in the name of restoring normalcy “would mock our democratic process”.
The home and defence ministries sat up and took notice, and political parties such as the Congress began cornering the Narendra Modi government on the issue. The BJP, in a delicate alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, found itself in an uncomfortable position. AFSPA had been a sore point before the parties formed an alliance. Today, it has become more pertinent as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has talked about reviving dialogue with Kashmiris, whose patience is wearing thin over alleged excesses of law enforcement agencies.
“We are watching the issue closely as it has far-reaching implications and consequences,” said a top home ministry official. “After the cases are reopened in Manipur, similar demands can be made in Jammu and Kashmir as well.”
Former Union minister Veerappa Moily of the Congress told THE WEEK: “We had examined the issue both in the context of Manipur and other northeastern states, as well as Jammu and Kashmir. In Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur, 50 per cent of the problem can be resolved once AFSPA is lifted.” Moily headed the second Administrative Reforms Commission, which recommended scrapping of the law in 2007. However, the government did not take any decision on the recommendations.
About a decade later, the feeling of alienation and injustice is brimming over. “Compensation is not enough, I want punishment for the guilty. It has been a long fight for justice and we hope we will finally get justice,” said Neena Ningombam, 39, former secretary of the Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association in Manipur (EEVFAM).
Neena said her husband, Nongmaithem Michael, was shot in the head in a fake encounter by security forces on November 4, 2008. “The court has said that my husband was innocent and ordered compensation of Rs 5 lakh,” she told THE WEEK. “But I want punishment for those who killed my husband. The government has been ignoring our plea but I hope we will get justice now.”
The Supreme Court has sought details of 1,528 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in Manipur, before September 7. “It is an extraordinary order by the Supreme Court but it's only the first part,” senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for EEVFAM, told THE WEEK. “The second part may be even more important since it will decide how the prosecution will be done. First, the Supreme Court has said that AFSPA should not have been used for such a lengthy period of time. Second, the apex court has said the Army has no immunity from prosecution. The Army's stand that it is at war with Manipur insurgents and that there is insurgency-like situation in the state has been rejected by the court.” He said this would apply to every state, including Jammu and Kashmir. “The normal criminal courts also have jurisdiction to prosecute Army personnel,” he said.
Former home minister P. Chidambaram, who paved way for a phased withdrawal of AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir during the Manmohan Singh regime, told THE WEEK: “Government must amend the law immediately, followed by an exercise to replace AFSPA by a more humane law that will provide limited immunity to security forces. I realised that AFSPA, instead of providing immunity to the security forces, allowed them to act with impunity. Hence my proposal to repeal the law or, at least, amend it.”
However, the security establishment is strongly against any such move. Shambhu Singh, additional chief secretary of Manipur, said: “Other than the genuine organisations working for human rights, the terrorist outfits float overground organisations ostensibly to raise human rights issues, but the real motive is only to discredit the security forces.”
For the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, the figures tell the story. This year, by June, 54 terrorists entered India. This is against five during the corresponding period last year. Apparently, 90 terrorists had tried to sneak in this year—ten were neutralised and 26 went back. Home ministry data shows that 40 militants have freshly been recruited in the valley so far this year. Also, stone pelting incidents have increased to 390 from 224 last year.