#AFSPA has never stopped rebellion #Northeast #Manipur

Those who worry that repealing AFSPA would open a can of worms, may be better advised to let such insecurities go

Sudeep Chakravarti, Live mint

AFSPA is a legal prophylactic. It provides India’s armed forces and operational adjuncts such as Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles both immunity and impunity in areas that AFSPA is enforced.
India’s Wikileaks-like politics du jour has masked a byplay of a significant magnitude of security and self-respect—at least the perception of it. A public interest litigation is admitted to the Supreme Court challenging the extension of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, (AFSPA) 1958, in Manipur. A bench of the court on 19 October asked the government of India and Manipur to respond by 5 November.
The official response will likely parrot what it has in the past: without AFSPA, currently applied to parts or the whole of most northeastern states, India’s security will continue to be at risk, and the armed forces couldn’t effectively do their job. It will be another exercise in perpetuating myths in the name of national security; in quite the manner a country cousin of AFSPA is applied in Jammu and Kashmir. A sledgehammer where a nutcracker would do, they remain among India’s most controversial laws, nearly on par with separate legislation that anyway permit many states, those affected by the Maoist rebellion as well as those in India’s north and east to, de facto, do what they wish to even non-combatants in the name of law and order.
AFSPA is a legal prophylactic. It provides India’s armed forces and operational adjuncts such as Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles both immunity and impunity in areas that AFSPA is enforced. The sweep includes the standard modus of shooting to kill, if need be, anybody breaching law and order, ranging from a gathering of five or more unarmed protesters to those possessing weapons; to destroying suspected arms dumps and places thought to harbour any manner of rebel or sympathizer. “Any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area”, do so.
It then leapfrogs to precognition by allowing such personnel to, without warrant, enter premises, search, seize whatever they wish, and arrest whomsoever they wish even on “reasonable suspicion” that “he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to effect the arrest”. This applies also to places “likely” to be used as shelters not only for armed attacks but by “absconders wanted for any offence”. And, for everything, to use “such force as may be necessary.” Such a law encouraged India’s official rage and revenge—including widespread torture, molestation, rape and the killing of non-combatants—in the Naga areas and Mizoram in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. And, later, relatively more isolated cases in Nagaland, Manipur and Assam, because “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.” (At the time of the parent law’s birthing in 1958, a prescient parliamentarian from Manipur described it as “a lawless law”. He was steamrolled.)
Since 2004, several government committees have repeatedly recommended the repeal of AFSPA, arguing that there exists without it, enough legal provision in national security for search and seizure, arrest, interrogation, even a firefight—where police, paramilitary and the armed forces can fire upon other armed or violent combatants. The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee conducted numerous interviews and sought representation all across north-eastern India from all players—victims to security forces—and submitted its report in 2005, suggesting AFSPA be repealed. The government buried it.
In 2007, the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily also suggested the repeal of AFSPA; suggesting instead that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act be bolstered, with a provision to enable the armed forces to operate in conflict zones. The government ignored it.
What such attitude disrespects is the undeniable proof that application of AFSPA has never stopped rebellion—it has instead consistently bred resentment against India by protecting prejudices and atrocities. Too, recent reverses for several key insurgencies in the northeast have not happened on account of AFSPA, but a combination of pin-point and coordinated policing and combat operations; effective Indian diplomacy and changing political realities in countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar that have made regimes there less inclined to harbour anti-India rebels, and creeping realization that active peacemaking, governance, development, and ethno-regional respect are the surest guarantors of India’s internal security.
Those in the security establishment who worry that repealing AFSPA would open a can of worms, as it were, may be better advised to let such insecurities go. The worms—the truths—have been out for decades. Prophylactics aren’t exactly foolproof.
Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.
Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com

#India-Journalists report the police version of crime: Seema Azad

|October 21, 2012

Do journalists question enough, asks Seema Azad, ‘Dastak’ editor who was charged under the UAPA in this interview with SHOBHA S V [Courtesy: THE HOOT]

Seema Azad

37-year old Seema Azad’s calm demeanour belies the trauma that she’s had to undergo. Azad, editor of ‘Dastak’ magazine and organising secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) was arrested in February 2010 in Allahabad along with her husband Vishwa Vijayon charges of sedition and UAPA. Vishwavijay has been a student union leader and activist of Inquilabi Chhaatra Morcha.

The duo were arrested shortly after Seema wrote against Ganga Expressway Plan, a project that would have displaced many farmers and also highlighted arbitrary arrests of Muslim youth by the Special Task Force in Azamgarh.

After a prolonged fight that stretched for two and a half years, the Allahabad High Court finally granted bail to the duo on 5thAugust, 2012. They have appealed against the conviction. Azad and her husband were in Mumbai recently to speak in a public meeting demanding for release of social activist SudhirDhawale, who has been in jail on charges of sedition.

Seema spoke out strongly against sedition and laws that curbed dissent and deplored the failure of mainstream media to question police charges against fellow journalists and activists. She also said the publication of ‘Dastak’ was suspended when she and her husband were in jail, but it will come out again from January, 2013.

Can you tell us what happened when you were picked up in February 2010?

I was coming back from Delhi after attending the National Book fair and a group of plainclothesmen literally grabbed my husband and me and put us in a vehicle. I wouldn’t say we were arrested. We were kidnapped. There was no warrant issued at all.

Why do you think you were arrested?

During questioning, the police kept asking us about my articles in my magazine ‘Dastak’ including Operation Green Hunt, Ganga Expressway Plan that would have affected many farmers’ livelihood and about my article on Muslim youth in Azamgarh who were being harassed by the police. I was branded a Maoist because I wrote against the Government on these issues.

Can you describe your experience in the jail?

It was very depressing initially. For the first day or two, I couldn’t talk to anyone. I slowly started opening up. Resistance builds up only gradually. My experience in prison made me open my eyes to a reality that I would never have had an opportunity to experience otherwise. Prisoners also have rights, which are consistently violated all the time. I remember wanting to read a newspaper every day. It seems like a simple thing except that it was not. I had to fight for it with the superintendent, jailor, warden and may others. Finally, when the Chief Judicial Magistrate had come for a programme in the prison, I insisted very strongly that I need a newspaper. It was only after his intervention that they started giving newspapers to read. My family really helped me during this time. Whenever they would come to meet me, they would bring along with them, a big set of newspapers, magazines and some books for me to catch up with my reading. I also found that the jail library is in a very bad shape. I could hardly use it. In my prison, I was the first woman who was accused of being a Maoist.

Since I was an under-trial, physical work was not mandatory for me. However, they kept asking me for bribes. I resolutely refused to pay them anything. I received feelers that I should either pay up or I should work. I clearly told them that I wouldn’t mind working but refused to pay bribes. However, they did not bother me after that. I think it was because I was educated, that things were relatively better for me than someone who is non literate.

The jail officials would ask for money in order to facilitate meeting with my family members. I ended up spending lot of time with the children of the female prisoners. I also taught two women how to read.

What kind of support did you receive from the journalist community?

Mainstream media kept writing from the point of view of the police. When I was arrested, I did not get any support from mainstream media and journalists at all. I have been working as a journalist for the past eight years now. Apart from bringing out a bi-monthly magazine, I have also written for a mainstream publication, Sahara Samay for three years now. Yet, when I was arrested, there was not a single word from any mainstream media journalist. It was very disappointing.

What do you think ails journalism today?

Journalists only end up writing the police version of any crime. The accused person’s version is seldom published. Rarely is any attempt made to contact the accused person’s lawyer or family for their statement. This is a very sorry state of affairs. The level of ignorance amongst journalists about laws is appalling. When I finally got bail two months ago, we had arranged for a press conference about black laws. So many journalists did not know about Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) or Unlawful Activities Prevention Act(UAPA). I had to explain what AFSPA is all about. However, just as corporate media in India is spreading everywhere, I also see many instances of independent media. There are many small publications which are doing good work. I also see hope in online media. When I was arrested, I remember my brother pointing out to many websites, blogs writing about me and the black laws that exist in our country.

Now that you are out on bail, what how do you plan to continue your fight?
I am very happy going around different parts of the country talking about black laws like sedition and UAPA. I am also working on bringing out my magazine ‘Dastak’ once again. It was stopped when I was in jail. The next edition will come out in January 2013.

I express my solidarity with the people of Koodankulam. 7000 people have been slapped with sedition! Section 124 (sedition) has become a joke. The prevailing atmosphere is such that the state wants to intimidate everyone who wants to critique and challenge government policies of development. If the government thinks that they will frighten people in this way, I can tell you from my experience that they are sorely mistaken. I have become even more rebellious after my arrest and subsequent stay in jail. I am going to continue my fight for what I believe in.


This war against our own people-Report of All India Rally and Dharna


CDRO – Report of All India Rally and Dharna

October 7, 2012


Out of 640 district of India, 101 are reeling under Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). This war against our own people has thrown up social and ethnic divides whose tragic consequences can be seen in the current bloodletting in Assam and the exodus of people from North East out of Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, etc.

We are also alarmed at the indifference shown towards uncovering of mass graves in Kashmir which may hold the key to solve the mystery of 8-10,000 victims of enforced disappearance. Accordingly, Coordination of Democratic Rights organisations (CDRO), as an association of civil rights and democratic rights organizations, gave a call for a Rally and Dharna on on 7th September, 2012 in Delhi.

The objective of this call was to protest against escalated forms of violence and repression that various sections of people within the country are being subjected to. Click this link for a report from the Dharna; an excerpt of this report is shown below.

The course of democracy in India is increasingly witnessing a violent assault not just on people’s rights but the very existence of people who dare to stand and act in negation of the status quo. The current year has been replete with mass violations of civil and democratic rights of people. The brutal and prejudiced side of the state is obvious in its “arrest or kill” policy towards those resisting corporate take-over of their land, forest and water in the name of counter Maoist offensives (such as killing of 17 adivasis in Bijapur district of Chattisgarh). Equally evident is the state-corporate partnership exploiting peoples’ resources in the name of industrial development. The conscious attempt of the state to target vulnerable sections of society, to ‘construct’ them as criminals is visible in numerous cases of Muslim youths being falsely implicated in terrorist cases by Anti-Terrorist Squads of different state governments. There have been increasing instances of sexual assault on women by paramilitary forces. Incidents of violence against and social boycott of Dalits as a repercussion of their assertion of legitimate rights are escalating. Physical attacks on social activists for raising genuine concerns against the fatal consequences of state policies that pass under the rhetoric of development, together with a massive and shameful deployment of draconian laws such as sedition and UAPA are being used against civil and democratic rights activists to silence their voices. Out of 640 district of India, 101 are reeling under Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and in another 37 districts we find similar conditions. This war against our own people has thrown up social and ethnic divides whose tragic consequences can be seen in the current bloodletting in Assam and the exodus of people from North East out of Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad etc. We are also alarmed at the indifference shown towards uncovering of mass graves in Kashmir which may hold the key to solve the mystery of 8-10,000 victims of enforced disappearance.

Delhi Police, which directly operates under the Central Government, did not give the required permission for rally till the last day in the name of maintaining law and order. However, nearly 500 people from various states of India came for this programme to vent their anger against suppressing democratic dissent. Most of the people who had come from various states such as Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, etc, for this programme were part of the democratic and civil liberty organisations. Many others were victims of the repressive laws such as UAPA, Sedition etc. They all had come armed with posters, banners and other campaign materials expressing the violation of democratic rights in their states. These posters and banners were put up at the dharna site and slogans were raised to highlight the repressive and undemocratic role of central and various state governments in response of the genuine and democratic demands of the toiling masses such as farmers, workers, Adivasis, minorities, etc.


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