Armed Forces Special Power Act
By Colonel I S Chanam, Retd
This Act( AFSPA ) has created a lot of heart burn among the public in Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir. It has drawn criticism from many quarters. Many instances of committ
Ingexcesses by the armed forces had taken place in earlier years under the umbrella of this Act.Supreme Court trimmed offsome grey areas in the Act. Instances of excesses by Armed forces have declined to nil over the years due to stringent guidelines enforced by higher armed Forces authority.
How this Act came into existence? Its seed was sown at Kohima, Nagaland in the year 1953.
Naga insurgency is the oldest and most powerful movement in the country demanding sovereignty. Till today it remains a highly potent insurgent outfit. It is running a parallel government, collecting house tax from every house, levying 24% tax from gross salaries of government employees and enormous tax from the shop keepers. Every load carrying truck coming into Manipur through Nagaland pays a quantified amount as tax. They are running judicial system too.
In olden days each Naga village was a sovereign state ruled by the village elders. Different village had their own dialect, mutually unintelligible languages. Internecine feuds, wars and head hunting campaigns were common among the Naga tribes.Under the British administration ‘Nagamese’, a mix of Assamese and Hindi became an inter-tribal language.
During World War I (1914-18) 2000Nagas from various tribes were sent to France as part of Labour Corps. Away from their villages they imbibed a common bondand decided to work towards unity and friendship, to cease internecine war and head hunting, on return to their villages after the world War. With the help of British officials, these Nagas formed the ‘Naga Club’ in 1919.
The’ Naga Club’ became the socio-political foundation of the Naga movement. In 1929 it submitted a memorandum to the’ Simon Commission’ that the Nagas be given a choice of self-determination when the British would leave India.
The renowned DC of Naga Hills district, Mr CR Pawsey, established in 1945 ‘Naga Hills District Tribal Council’. This replaced the ‘Naga Club’. After one year this developed into a political organisation named as ‘Naga National Council (NNC)’.The legendary Mr A Z Phizo came into the scene. Under his leadership the NNC demanded a sovereign Naga state.
On 14 August 1947, one day ahead of India’s independence, the NNC under initiative of Phizo, declared independence of Naga Region. He was arrested in 1948 on charge of instigating a rebellion and later released in 1950. Phizo became President of NNC. In 1952 he met Prime Minister Nehru a few times to plead for Naga independence, which was rejected. During World War II, a prolonged and intense battle took place in Kohima between the British and the Japanese armies. TheNagashad weapons and ammunitions left over from that war. It was supplemented by purchases from China. The NNC turned into an armed rebellion to coerce Indian government to grant independence to Naga region.
On 31 March 1953 Prime Minister Nehru visited Kohima. A public meeting was held at Kohimaground. It was an attempt to establish mutual understanding and to obviate a situation of confrontation. During this the NNC delegation submitted a ‘Memorandum’ toMr Nehru by hand. Mr Nehru passed on the copy of the ‘Memorandum’ to his Aide Mr Rustomji. Mr Rustomji was a prominent Aide and Advisor of the Prime Minister at that time. This act of passing on the memorandum to his aide was construed as an insult and the Naga leader snatched the copy of the memorandum from the hand of Mr Rustomji and tore it into pieces. The contention of the Nagas was that a memorandum given for Nehru to peruse was not read by Nehru himself and was passed on to a subordinate. The delegation expected Nehru to read it and deliberate on it. His passing on the copy of memorandum to a subordinate was construed as a refusal and an insult to the Naga delegation. This offended the Naga delegation. Enraged by this, the Naga delegation turned their backs to Nehru and bared their bottoms, to show anger and disapproval. (Thoonfakchanba). That was followed by the typical Naga war cries by all the Nagas who assembled there andthat reverberated the entireKohima ground. The delegation, thereafter, broke away hurriedly.(Quoted from eye witness account).A commotion ensued. The Prime Minister came down immediately from the dais, entered the car and sped towards Imphal . All the vehicles forming a cavalcade, a long line, whizzed past Mao police gate towards Imphal.
( Choube and SibaniKinkar in their book ‘His Politics in North East India’ wrote that the DC of Kohimadisallowed the NNC delegation to meet the Prime Minister, apparently without Nehru’s knowledge. Consequently, the NNC delegates and their sympathisers boycotted the public meeting. The recorded history, probably wrote thus because what actually happened was not appropriate and dignified for the purpose of recording as a history).
This incident was a big affront to the Prime Minister. He, perhaps, could not tolerate it. At that period of time, Mr Nehru was emerging as a prominent world leader. The Naga delegates and their sympathisers showing their bottoms to the Prime Minister was an unthinkable incident. It never did happen, nor will it happen in future too. Nehru was reported to pace the floor of Rajbhavanduring the whole day and till late at night. He refused to drink or eat anything, the whole day. His daughter, Indira Gandhi failed in her attempt to console him.
At that period of time Manipur was under a Chief Commissioner. No Chief Minister, No Governor. Mr Mathew, ICS, was the Chief Commissioner of Manipur.
This was the last attempt by the Indian government to broker a peaceful negotiation with the NNC. Having failed in this effort,the next alterative wasthe use of the military arm of diplomacy. The year 1956 saw the arrival of 23 Infantry Division (Cockerel Formation Sign) into Nagaland. Bothe sides of Dimapur-Imphal main highway, from Dimapur to Mao were strung with army tents, barbed wires surrounding each camp. The highway was filled by long military convoys led by young, handsome secondLieutenants and Captains.
Nagas are muscularly built, agile and sturdy people. They are innately gifted marksmen in rifle shooting. Hunting is their favourite pastime. Their shooting is not on stationary targets. Their targets are flying birds, fast running rabbits and animals. Their skill and marksmanship with catapults are also remarkable. Those who do not possess muskets or guns/rifles use catapults for hunting birds/animals.
The military convoys served as convenient targets. The jungles and hill ranges along the highway provided good covers for sniping and ambushes. Nagas are at home and accustomed to jungles. They are naturally jungle trained warriors. They are masters in camouflaging and silently traveling in the jungle. A single shot would ring out from the hillside jungle, with the echo reverberating. Surely the shot would hit the target. An officer or a JCO or an NCO sitting on the front seat would fall. Within minutes troops from the convoy would get down and spray bullets towards the suspected direction. Before this the sniper disappeared beyond the reach of the spray of bullets.
The troops, thereafter, would naturally surround the nearby village, undertake search and investigation. The unarmed villagers would face the brunt of the angry troops. This would be followed by cries of human rights abuses of all kinds. Need for legal cover for the military action was felt. India had not encountered insurgency before the advent of Naga insurgency. Indian Armed Forces had no prior experience.
The army is trained and mandated to defend the country against external aggression It is not mandated for use against our own people. It is not authorised to enter, search premises and arrest our citizen. Under the situation in Nagaland at that time, the military had to be enabled to arrest insurgents, to search premises and shoot if needed for self-defence. For that purpose the’ Armed Forces Special Power Act 1958 ‘was created.
In subsequent years, other insurgent groups mushroomed in Manipur. More troops, in the form of CRPF and BSF were brought in, to deal with the situation. AFSPA was, accordingly, extended over Manipur state as well.
AFSPA will continue in Manipur for the foreseeable future. When the state government feels all are well with the situation of insurgency in the state, it has to resolve to remove the ‘Disturbed Area’ tag. The day ‘Disturbed area’ tag is withdrawn by the state government, AFSPA will go away and take rest at Jammu & Kashmir.