AFSPA, Not the Issue; It Energizes the Issue
THIS IS THE TIME FOR A VISIONARY STATESMANSHIP TO STAND UP AND ACT, COMMENTS PROF. M. I. BHAT
What distinguishes dictatorship from democracy is the rule of law, absence of which in the former dispensation allows a dictator to commit worst human rights violations, including murder of citizens, with impunity while the latter permits its citizenry to question their ruler’s every action. Dictatorship is thought of as a curse as much for the people under such regime as for its neighbors. That is, at least in theory. Castro’s Cuba and Bush’s America easily challenge this common notion, though.
When “armed” forces of a democratic country “seek legal protection” to quell unarmed protests, you need to pause and, however heretic it may sound, rethink about democratic credentials of the country. Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) is what reduces Indian democracy to a plain dictatorship, certainly in some of its peripheral regions where this act has been in force for decades. It provides the men in uniform impunity against all manner of human rights violations. More than hundred unarmed protestors already shot dead and hundreds injured, scores permanently disabled, in a span of just three months days and yet not a single armed force personnel on trial bespeaks volumes about the type of our governing dispensation. Instead, what we see is introduction of new terminology: Protestors are now termed “agitational terrorists” to justify their killing. We may soon have stones classified as WMD. Time for Douglas Coupland (NYT) to expand his dictionary and “to encapsulate our present moment.”
Yet another travesty of the democracy. Demands of Hurriyat leaders are rejected because they are not the elected leaders. Fine, but why reject the demand by Omar Abdullah, the much trumpeted “elected representative of J & K," for revoking AFSPA. Incidentally, by virtue of being the CM, he also is the Chair of the Unified Command. If not he, then who is left there to represent the wishes of his people or the requirements of armed forces for fighting insurgency in his Sate? Yet the BJP and very surprisingly the army Generals spoke the last word on the issue -- at least for now.
Well, experience has shown nursing fabled views about democracy to be utopian and amounts to fundamentalist interpretations of the concept and the word that we see missing in the real world. If such interpretations of and expectations from democracy did not come forth from the USA – the biggest thekaydar of democracy in our times -- why blame India. After all, isn’t India trying to follow, indeed out step, USA in every sphere? It took America two and a half centuries of democracy and high moral preaching about human rights and a full blown war to achieve its crowning glory for its democratic credentials in Abu Gharib; India achieved it in just six decades in Kashmir! Amnesty International is fooling itself by asking GoI to check the veracity of this achievement and how it came about. Answer or lack of it lies in the “pious” AFSPA and its stout defense by the BJP and the army Generals.
The current debate at national level about revoking/diluting AFSPA or changing CM Omar Abdullah is misplaced. Nobody has heard protestors shouting slogans for the repeal of AFSA or removal of Omar Abdullah. Protests are against the Indian rule and they have been here right from 1953 when the instrument of accession of Kashmir to India, irrelative of its alleged “disputed” nature, was first sabotaged by Delhi. Over the time the amount of autonomy guaranteed to the State under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was gnawed away.
Taking analogy from the process that lead to the demolition of Babri Masjid, from 1953 onwards the process of “integrating” Kashmir fully with India through coercive promises and doles via “elected” State governments amounted to opening the lock of the Babri Masjid. In the latter case, it was the time when Congress handed over the baton to BJP and in due course of time we saw L K Advani along with his battalions in full war cry out to restore the “honor and dignity” of the Mother India. Imposition of AFPSA following the eruption of militancy in J & K in early 1990s completed destruction of J & K’s autonomy. It is when Congress again passed the baton to BJP and we see L. K. Advani and his sevaks– this time to save Mother India’s “integrity.”
For BJP AFSPA is like the make-shift Ram Temple on the site of Babri Masjid. Do whatever Congress may, BJP will ensure the Act stays, for it provides the Party and its ideologue, RSS, a perfect ruse for something that satisfies their inner cravings – to see Muslims humiliated and crushed. In fact, it serves them a larger purpose: intimidating Muslims all over India and cater to and expand their vote bank. Continuing trickle of the exposures by TV news channels of the misuse of such inhuman laws against Muslims in the name of fighting terrorisms while giving cover to its practitioners should have prompted the government revoke such laws long ago.
Does the Government of India really need retention of AFPSA in its existing or diluted form when militancy is practically dead and when it has caused so much ruckus not just in Kashmir polity but also among national and international human rights groups for its misuse? That is for the Government to ponder and decide. However, it must keep in view that genesis of the present uprising in Kashmir lies in AFSPA. From J & K’s standpoint, AFSPA is far more than a “legal protection to armed forces.” It provides the armed forces a stamp and sense of lordship over the land and its people, thereby more than circumventing any vestiges of Article 370. It reduces locals to non-entities, a state of helplessness that is humiliating, demoralizing and literally crushing for any normal, self-respecting human being. We hear Sajjad Lone (ex-Hurriyat leader) during his TV debates often asking his co-panelists to come over to live with him in Kashmir and realize what AFSPA means for a Kashmiri. Sajjad Lone is not an ordinary Kashmiri; he lives under Government security cover. Yet if he feels its crunch, it should not be difficult to imagine how ordinary Kashmiris feel about it. That is why you hear resounding cries for “freedom” from every nook and cranny of Kashmir even in the face of unabated repression and bullet-for-stone killings.
Prime Minister is too often heard pleading for “violence-free” environment to start the dialogue but has never thought of first creating humiliation- and torture-free environment for the people in Kashmir. It is nobody’s case that revocation of AFSPA and such other laws would solve the underlying problem. But it could act as a strong CBM that with other measures like action under due process of law for wanton killings has a chance to meet his demand for “violence-free” dialogue. BJP condemned Omar Abdullah for being in Delhi when, according to them, he should have been in Kashmir pleading with the people for calm. May be. But when Union Home Secretary in Delhi, not the State administration in Srinagar, first announces relaxation in curfew or when a senior cabinet minister of Omar’s Government candidly and openly admits that Central Paramilitary Forces do not listen to the CM, you can’t blame him for looking for the key to calm in Delhi.
If the imposition of AFSPA and such other Acts in J & K didn’t need All Party meetings why this theatrics now when the “elected” State Government is pleading for their revoking and can be done simply by issuing a one-line administrative order? Separatist leaders of all hues rejected meeting with the All Party Delegation the moment it was announced. Mainstream politicians are already in toe of the Central Government. Who else is there for the Delegation to meet except may be some self-serving service-intellectuals always eying some crumbs?
India as a free democracy is too important not just for a billion plus people but for humanity as a whole. Its call doesn’t lie in RSS and BJP’s ideology and slogans that were patented to Hitler’s Germany. The call is for unemotional and pragmatic thinking and decisions especially when other internal and external problems with far graver implications are already ballooning. It is time for visionary statesmanship.
(The author is Professor at University of Kashmir, Srinagar. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lastupdate on : Mon, 20 Sep 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 20 Sep 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 21 Sep 2010 00:00:00 IST
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