Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is the latest to voice his opinion against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958. In wake of the killing of mine workers and civilians in Nagaland by security forces on Saturday, the demand to repeal the draconian Act has been growing.
After one more person succumbed to his injuries, the death toll now stands at 15, with 14 civilians and one member of the security forces. Pressure is now building on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Central government that is part of the ruling alliance in many of the states in the region. Clearly, calling it an “unfortunate incident”, as both Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Nagaland CM Rio had done in the immediate aftermath of the incident is not going to be enough.
On Monday, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma became the first CM in the north east to demand the Act’s repeal, and later in the day, Nagaland CM Rio echoed the same demand. Taking to Twitter, Rio said, “Nagaland and the Naga people have always opposed #AFSPA. It should be repealed.”
Nagaland and the Naga people have always opposed #AFSPA. It should be repealed.
— Neiphiu Rio (@Neiphiu_Rio) December 6, 2021
Earlier, Conrad Sangma had tweeted, “AFSPA should be repealed.” His National People’s Party (NPP) is in an alliance with the BJP in Meghalaya.
AFSPA should be repealed
— Conrad Sangma (@SangmaConrad) December 6, 2021
AFSPA and the abuse of power in the North East
The AFSPA has been in effect in the North East since 1958, while Nagaland became an Indian state in 1963 and has thus remained under AFSPA for close to sixty years. AFSPA allows security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without a warrant. This power has allegedly been misused by security forces to torture locals with several allegations of gendered crimes also mode from time to time.
The image of the Mothers of Manipur stripping and holding a banner saying, “Indian Army Rape Us”, is still fresh in the minds of people. The AFSPA has been condemned by many rights groups and most famously by human rights defender Irom Sharmila for its misuse by security forces to commit excesses, abuse and human rights violations.
In fact, scrapping the AFSPA was one of the key demands of the draft framework agreement to maintain peace in the region signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) (NSCN-IM) and the government interlocutor RN Ravi in 2015. However, the act was not withdrawn.
In January 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared the entire state of Nagaland as a “disturbed area” for six more months (after it had done so in June 2020), under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958. This was extended by six more months at the end of June 2021, and is therefore effective till December 31, 2021. This is how repeated extensions have kept the draconian law in effect in the North East for decades.
Impact on Naga Peace talks
Meanwhile, the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) that comprise seven separatist groups that are in talks with the Indian government as part of the Naga Peace Process have also dug their heels in, demanding the repeal of AFSPA. The impact of the killings on the peace talk can be gauged by the strongly worded statement issued by the NNPG, where it said, “The draconian laws in Nagaland and military atrocities over many decades have made Naga people very aware that they are not and will never be Indians.”
The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) too condemned the Army for its explanation that the ambush on the convoy of coal miners was the result of bad intel. It called the statement issued by the Army “nonsensical”, and said that the security forces “will never be able to wash its hands off, smeared with the blood of innocent Nagas…” It further said, “The Nagas had in the past faced a trigger-happy Indian SF, acting with impunity under the GoI’s AFSPA which is mainly used against the Naga pol. movement. Notwithstanding the ongoing pol. dialogue that has seen much fruition during the period running more than 2 decades the violence continues unabated. This is 1 of the most unfortunate incidents of the Indo Naga ceasefire signed.”
Ironically, it is a repeat of the past to suppress the legitimate Naga pol. movement. The Indian SF will never be able to wash its hands off, smeared with the blood of innocent Nagas no matter how it comes out with a nonsensical statement. (2/4)
— MIP, NSCN/GPRN (@MIP_GPRN) December 5, 2021
..the violence continues unabated.This is 1 of the most unfortunate incidents of the IndoNaga ceasefire signed. NSCNexpresses its deep anguish&conveys heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families in this hour of grief. We also share our sympathy with those who are injured.(4/4)
— MIP, NSCN/GPRN (@MIP_GPRN) December 5, 2021
Meanwhile, leaders from across India are also joining their fellow Indians in the North East to demand the repeal of AFSPA:
The unfortunate killings of 13 citizens in Nagaland should force us to re-think and review AFSPA so that accountability can be fixed.
We must stand by the CM’s of Nagaland and Meghalaya (both allies of the NDA) as they demand to repeal AFSPA.
— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) December 7, 2021
Strongly condemn the botched operation by Army in Nagaland killing at least 17 civilians and one soldier.
Army’s explanation of “an intelligence failure” is inadequate.
Thorough time bound probe & punishing the guilty imperative.
Withdraw AFSPA. https://t.co/IKYqVg2vRU pic.twitter.com/x2yqo5UUWo
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) December 6, 2021