“For 53 years since it was imposed in this region, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has helped soldiers get away with murder...and everyone seems to be deciding on life and death,” says Imphal-based rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.
Figures collated from the home departments and human rights organisations in the Northeast say counter-insurgency operations claimed at least 38,000 militants and civilians during the past five decades.
But armed forces officials swear by the AFSPA. “This is like a bullet-proof vest for soldiers going to war. Any Act that ensures a certain kind of insulation for a soldier in a conflict situation is necessary. Even with the Act, we have allowed civil law to take over wherever we have crossed the line,” says Assam Rifles Director General Lt Gen K.S. Yadava.
He claims greater social awareness and more representation of locals in the armed forces have helped reduce alleged human rights violation.
“It (the Act) is doing nothing but promoting gun culture and war-mongering,” says Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been on hunger strike since 2000 for the repealing of the Act.