Tuesday, September 14, 2010

AFSPA must be scrapped... not only in Kashmir but everywhere... Kashmir is on the boil once again. Amidst images of stone pelting by the youth, which are now becoming regular visuals that the TV channels beam across the country, the Union government, we are told, is now talking to Chief Minister Omar Farooq. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a notorious legislation that has been there for over five decades, is now the contention.

Omar Farooq, we are informed, wants the act to be amended or taken off from parts of Kashmir and the Union Cabinet is divided is what the media informs us. There is also a campaign, in which the media houses are engaged, to endorse Omar’s demand as a face saving formula so that talks are held between the establishment and the Hurriyat. Well. We do not know the truth as such and let me stress here that the AFSPA has to go.

Let me add, in this context, that the AFSPA has to be taken off the law and this has to be done not in small measure but as a whole. I say this because there is a serious problem with such acts in the sense that it gives the army and the para-military forces the license to kill and many men, women and children have been killed for no reason in the fifty years that this act has been in vogue. It is also important to add that such killings have taken place not only in Kashmir but in the North-Eastern States of this country.

One of the aspects of the act is that it provides the right to kill and does not warrant any enquiry into such killings. It also provides for indiscriminate arrests and detentions by the army, when called into operations in civilian areas. The point is that civilian disturbances are political in nature and a solution or a response to such mobilizations will have to be political in nature and not by using the army.

In other words, it is important to realize that the demand to withdraw the AFSPA is NOT to support the mobilization of the people and their demands. It is a different matter that the Hurriyat Conference, now under a spell of the forces that demand separation of Kashmir from India and the Indian State cannot stay with its eyes closed to such campaigns. But then, it is important and necessary that the leaders who raise such demand are isolated from the people and dealt with in accordance with law.

What we see now is situation where the Indian State is doing everything to help those leaders rally the people behind them. The AFSPA, in fact, is one aspect that helps the leaders rally the people behind the demand for an azad Kashmir! The point is that battles for the integration of India will have to be fought in the minds of the people and for this there is no use for repressive and anti-democratic laws as the AFSPA. What we need is a political message that India is a democratic country and the nation will listen to the aspirations for democracy from where it comes.

At the roots of the mass agitation in Kashmir today are the youth who have been cheated and kept out of the democratic process in Kashmir. Recall the elections to the assembly in 1987. Almost all the leaders of the Hurriyat now were candidates of the Muslim United Front (MUF) then. And the Congress, in association with the National Conference, then led by Farooq Abdullah, conducted as much rigging then to defeat all the MUF candidates. And it is from then that the youth in the valley began losing hopes on democracy.

The rest is history. And we did see that the Indian establishment set out on a path where it encouraged all those who picked up the gun and stones before inviting them to talks. And what more do we need to say that this dangerous game, un-democratic in its core, is being played not just in Kashmir but elsewhere too.

Irom Sharmila Chanu, in Manipur, has not eaten a morsel of rice or anything for hat matter, for more than ten years now. She is on a hunger strike, picked up by the police every now and then on charges of attempting to commit suicide, admitted to a hospital in Imphal, and released only to be arrested again. She is on fast demanding that the AFSPA be scrapped and democracy restored in her own region. The Chief Ministers of Manipur, time and again, have endorsed her demand. But then the media has not taken up that demand as it is now taking it in case of Kashmir. The Union Cabinet has not met to decide on that yet.

The message is clear but dangerous. That the Government will even take up the demand for scrapping the AFSPA only when the youth throw stones and burn buildings. Not when a young girl resorts to the Gandhian form of agitation, the supreme form of struggle: Sathyagraha. This is sad and even strange. The government, that exists in the name of democracy, desecrates the supreme ideal of democracy and encourages violent means in agitations. Scrap the AFSPA, not in parts and not in pieces but as a whole and make it clear that Irom Sharmila Chanu made you do that.


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