Amid accolades, activists say fight for full repeal to go on
Afspa was implemented in Assam in November 1990 in the wake of violent activities by United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Since then, it has been extended every six months. On February 28, 2022, it was extended again for another term.
Guwahati: The Centre’s decision to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) from areas in three northeastern states has drawn acclaim for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it indicates the party’s willingness to repeal the stringent law -- a longstanding demand of the region -- from areas where insurgency is on the decline.
However, activists say the fight for a full repeal of the law from all states will continue.
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In Assam for instance, the Centre’s move to repeal the law comes on the back of a decline in insurgent activities over the past few years. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a database run by the Institute of Conflict Management, there were 60 different terror outfits operating in the state through the 1990s up to 2000.
Afspa was implemented in the state in November 1990 in the wake of violent activities by United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Since then, it has been extended every six months. On February 28, 2022, it was extended again for another term.
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Over the past five years however, 16 terrorist groups, big and small, have surrendered, been disbanded and signed peace deals. Now ULFA-I and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation are the only active groups.
The changing scenario has also reflected in the activities of terror outfits in the state. A datasheet prepared by SATP shows that while 565 persons (183 civilians, 76 security personnel and 287 terrorists) died in the state in 2001, the figure was 29 (10 civilians, 19 terrorists) last year.
Data tabled by Central government in Parliament indicated that the number of insurgency-related incidents in the Northeast has dropped from 824 in 2014 to 187 till November 15, 2021.
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Civilian deaths during this period had come down to three, before 13 people were gunned down in a botched Army operation in Mon district of Nagaland in December 2021.
The government’s data also showed that deaths of security personnel had come down by 75% (compared to which year). In 2021, the number of insurgents who surrendered increased to 1,448 from 158 in 2019.
Following Thursday’s move, Afspa will remain in districts of Upper Assam where ULFA (Independent) is still active and in the hill districts of the state, where Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) has a presence.
“Afspa will be withdrawn from tonight from 60% of Assam territory. The decision to withdraw the Act was not taken overnight or due to some demand from some quarters. It has been done because of marked improvement in law and order situation in Assam,” said chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Guwahati.
The Mon killings last year re-ignited the demand for Afspa from Nagaland. The state assembly on December 20 convened an urgent session and adopted a resolution to press for repealing the Act. The state Assembly had previously adopted resolutions for withdrawal of Afspa in 1971 and 2015.
After Thursday’s move, Afspa will be completely repealed from three districts of the state — Tuensang, Shamatore and Tseminyu — and will be partially removed from Kohima, Wokha, Longleng and Mokokchung districts.
Districts that share the international border with Myanmar, Mon, Noklak, Kiphire and Phek, have been left out of Thursday’s move. The neighbouring country is suspected to be a stronghold of the Yung Aung faction of the NSCN (K), the only Naga nationalist group which is not in ceasefire with the government of India.
“It is good to know there is a relaxation of some sorts. But mere appeasement policies do not help. Just too much transgressions and violations under this law has happened which are beyond words,” says Neingulo Krome of the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, while seeking scrapping of the law and removal of the military and all paramilitary forces from all area.
For the influential Naga Mothers Association, Thursday’s repeal brought little relief.
“The Armed Forces Powers Act must be repealed. This draconian law violates every form.of human rights and can never be justified... Government of India should stop playing with Nagas and our sentiments.The demand is for the repeal of AFSPA, nothing less,” NMA advisor Rosemary Dzuvichu said.
The Naga Hoho, which has also been at the forefront in demanding the repeal of the contentious Act, questioned the intention of the Centre on “partial lifting” of the Act. HK Zhimomi, the chief of the organisation, said people of Nagaland “cannot trust the government of India”.
In Manipur, Afpsa will be completely lifted from 15 police stations -- Sekmai, Lamsang, Patsoi, Lamlai, Irilbung, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Kakching, Jiribam, Imphal West, Lamphel, Singjamei, Porompat, Heingang and Imphal City -- in six districts.
Significantly, most of the areas in Manipur from which the law has been lifted lie in the Imphal Valley or urban areas where terror groups don’t have much influence. In the hill districts, where National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) and other factions are still active, the Act will continue to remain in force.
Political leaders believe that the move will usher new wave of development in northeast.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction. But this is not the end of our struggle and we will continue to strive for complete repeal of Afspa. That’s the only way India can claim to be a true democracy. This was long overdue, but better late than never,” Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of Imphal-based Human Rights Alert (HRA).
The Act has its origins in the Naga political issue and the armed rebellion that followed. Though it was initially confined to parts of Nagaland, it was gradually extended to most parts of all seven states in the region.
(With inputs from Alice Yhoshu in Kohima and Sobhapati Samom in Imphal)