The Curious Case of AFSPA

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KashmirFinal-page-0Prashant Bhushan, Kashmir and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act have been all over the news in the past couple of days. Prashant Bhushan’s suggestion that internal deployment of armed forces should require the consent of the people, led to a maelstrom. Bhushan was wildly misquoted, his own party distanced itself from his remarks and the AAP office was vandalized by right-wing elements seeking to defend the honour of this great nation.

I decided to see what the fuss was all about. I looked at figures released by the Army’s Human Rights Cell first. You can find those figures here. I then looked at results from a survey conducted by MSF from two districts in Kashmir: Kupwara and Badgam. You can find the full report here.

The first graph looks at the complaints lodged against the Indian Army and the results of these complaints. All cases were tried internally by the army and none of the reports were made public.

The second graph looks at the exposure to violence of ordinary Kashmiris living in the army’s shadow.  The questionnaires tested exposure to violence since 1989.

KashmirFinal-page-0 KashmirMSF-page-0

It seems clear to me that we are doing something very wrong in Kashmir. The complaints against the army there is nearly 20 times that of complaints in the rest of the country combined. Over 95% of these complaints are dismissed. State and National Human Rights Commission repeatedly receive complaints against the army. Sure, you can say that this is all a conspiracy against the army but it can’t be just that. There are repeated reports of army excesses from national and international reports. State and national governments have repeatedly called for dilution of the powers of the army but failed to implement it. 

Exposure to violence in the valley is outrageously high and the state machinery seems unable to do anything to change this. 75% of the people in these districts witnessed arrests and nearly 14% witnessed a rape. 12% of the women surveyed reported being raped themselves. 76% of those arrested reported being tortured. These are mind boggling figures for any nation, especially one that prides itself on its somewhat peaceful and democratic record. Now, not all of these excess are by the army. 

Is it too much to ask that the situation change a little? Now, naysayers are going to bring me to the topic of national security and how this is crucial for national security. Let me be clear: There is nothing in national security that requires rape and torture of civilians. There is nothing in national security that justifies the curbing of basic civil rights of a people for over two decades. P. Chidambaram made it clear that a more humanitarian law was required but lack of consensus within the Army made this currently impossible.

Violence against a state’s own citizens violates one of the basic tenets of statehood. Army excesses against civilians have become common place in Kashmir. In June 2009, Neelofar and Aasiya Jan were raped and murdered by security forces. The investigation was terribly botched up and under immense public pressure, the government instituted a commission. Media coverage and subsequent response  is in stark contrast to the response to the December 16 rape case in Delhi.

What is worse is the outcry against any opinion challenging the military discourse. Of course, we should be discussing the army’s atrocities in Kashmir, and other places. Please note that I am not suggesting we secede Kashmir. Merely, that we stop giving our army the impunity to commit crimes against civilians. Our continued use of AFSPA only does disservice to our army, our nation and the people of Kashmir and the North East. We have subjected people in the margins to violence for too long. It only reflects on our growth as a nation if we challenge that.

National pride should lie in providing a just, human and equal life to all our citizens. National pride should NOT lie in violently suppressing a few to satisfy the ego of the majority.

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