The Tripura government has decided to repeal the much controversial AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) that had been in effect in the state since February 1997 much to the relief of the natives and the human rights group battling the ‘black laws’.
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar announced the decision after a meeting with his Council of Ministers on Wednesday. He said that the government had earlier tried to revoke the Act but couldn’t gain the consent of the security establishment. The Punjab government had revoked AFSPA in 1997. Former Home Minister P Chidhambaram who welcomed the decision said that Ministry couldn’t repeal the Act due to the pressure from the CRPF and BSF forces and termed the Act as ‘obnoxious’ and ‘anti-public’ which had no place in ‘modern and civilized society’. The Minister had earlier sticked to his stand against granting special rights to the armed forces. While Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee demanded its repeal, Justice J S Varma Committee ordered a review of the Act.
Despite the opposition and the demand for repeal of AFSPA from the people of the region and the many human rights groups, the government has been continuing to defend the Act on the grounds of tackling armed insurgents and calling it a functional requirement for the armed forces in disturbed areas. AFSPA is an extension of the special rights given to the armed forces on August 15, 1942 by the then British government to suppress the ‘Quit India’ movement. Specific regions were declared as ‘disturbed areas’ and the army was given special rights to counter the Independence struggle. The highly controversial Act which is in force in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast states gives legal immunity to the army officers who often misuse the law by detaining suspects in custody without trial, and forcefully entering and searching premises and making arrests without a warrant. The army can also shoot to kill in case of any suspected insurgency. AFSPA for years has been hurting the sentiments of the people in the region as well their culture.
The polls to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council are one of the reasons that influenced the decision of the Manik government. Due to the strong campaign by the tribal outfits against AFSPA, the CPI (M)-led Left Front managed to gain nine per cent more votes in the election than the previous one. The anti-AFSPA campaigns in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh would now be bolstered by the government decision. The tribals and the Dalits are the ones who would be bearing the brunt of the black laws like AFSPA, TADA and POTA. Rights activist Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since 2000 seeking the repeal of the Act in her home state and demanding justice for the alleged army atrocities. The special rights of the armed forces, if given, should be coming under democracy. The fact that India continues its wavering approach towards repealing AFSPA imparts a wrong message to the international community. Since the Centre is evidently reluctant to revoke the Act, the state governments should take steps to repeal such black laws. The Kerala government must also follow the path of the Manik Sarkar government and put an end to these ‘anti-terror’ laws that are a threat to every citizen not just Kashmiris.