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Don’t demoralise soldiers by diluting AFSPA

At some point when disenchantment and alienation of the people of an area or state against the political and administrative dispensation go out of hand, the affected state or area is declared ‘disturbed’. In such a situation, if the police are unable to control lawlessness and insurgency, the Indian Army’s help is sought to restore order. Since the military does not have normal police powers for it to control unruly mobs or combat insurgents, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was enacted by Parliament. But before AFSPA is brought in, the concerned area or state has to be declared disturbed by the state or central government. The Act gives the military the necessary legal protection, especially when there are serious injuries or death of miscreants/insurgents. To initiate any legal action against any soldier, acting under AFSPA, the central government’s permission is required.

To give added protection to the military, earlier the civil authority seeking assistance had to provide the military a certificate, saying that all available resources have been deployed and the situation is well outside the control of civil administration, and so the military’s help is being sought. This was done to put a check on civil administrations from seeking the military’s assistance at the drop of a hat. But such a certificate showed the civil administration in a poor light, and so the requirement was scrapped. Unfortunately, the military’s high command meekly accepted this decision to do away with the certificate.

In a disturbed area, the local population is usually alienated and anti-national feelings prevail. Consequently, any incident involving casualties to civilians, the locals invariably give evidence against the military. While a few dare to give evidence against the local police, there are always enough witnesses to give false evidence against the military.

Here are two cases that illustrate my point: First, the 2004 Thangjam Manorama case in Manipur. It was alleged that she was tortured, raped and killed by the military and that she was innocent. But the truth is that she was a terrorist and member of the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur. As part of the organisation, she was involved in laying IEDs that killed six civilians and two security personnel. During the search operation, one transmitter and two grenades were recovered from her. Two independent autopsies (I have a copy of one of the two autopsy reports) ruled out rape and torture, and the nature of the bullet wounds corroborated that she was shot while escaping. Yet allegations continued to be levelled against military personnel.

The second case relates to the alleged murder and rape of two women at Shopian in the Kashmir Valley by military personnel (YEAR?). The local doctor confirmed rape and murder. Later, their bodies were exhumed and a team of independent doctors conducted another round of autopsies. The team ruled out rape and murder. Their deaths were attributed to drowning. In certain cases, even the local police and administration back down under local public pressure, adopting a hostile attitude towards the military. So, there is an obvious need of AFSPA for the military to operate in disturbed areas.

If the Act is diluted, military personnel will hesitate to engage with militants or get killed during confrontations. No personnel wants to spend time running around in civil courts to justify his actions while dealing with insurgents and terrorists, where for sure, witnesses from local, alienated population will align against him. During firefights with insurgents, locals gather at the location and often terrorists who fire at them. They do this because they know that any casualty could be pinned on the military. Let us not forget that to date, the Indian Army has lost more than 700 officers and 9,000 soldiers to the insurgency.

Last week, a group of over 300 soldiers approached the Supreme Court, appealing against any “dilution” of AFSPA. The petition said prosecuting soldiers who are doing their duty by the civilian authorities like the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation will lower their morale and endanger national security. This development is a serious one and shows the utter failure of the military’s high command to prevent the development of such circumstances where serving military personnel have to approach the court.

In insurgency-hit areas, the military is the last and ultimate instrument of the State to be deployed to ensure territorial integrity and security of the country. So why are we so willingly and purposefully demotivating the military?

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