PUDR strongly condemns the extension of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in Assam, on January 2, 2015 under Section 3 of the Act by the Government of India. Coming in the wake of the recent massacre of adivasis by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) on December 23, 2014 in Kokrajhar, Sonitpur and Chirang districts of Assam, this extension is a testament to the state’s militarised approach to the political issues underlying the carnage.
While the renewal of AFSPA is a routine exercise undertaken in all states where it is enforced, the Act has been used to subvert the democratic aspirations of people and rights of individuals through an imposition of a culture of aggression and crimes committed by the army and paramilitary forces. Draconian laws like AFSPA not only provide legal immunity to the armed forces but also override the jurisdiction of criminal courts. Instead of addressing the complex realities of these regions, the enactment and extension of laws like AFSPA transforms political demands into law and order problems, solved by military operations. In the present instance, the massacre perpetrated by the NDFB (S) was preceded by an alleged fake encounter of two of its cadres by the armed forces on December 21, 2014. In retaliation the NDFB(S) massacred more than 80 adivasis. Subsequently the government deployed 50 columns of army and 66 companies of the central armed police forces. This knee jerk reaction of the government will only further militarise an already militarised region racked by AFSPA.
Coupled with the government’s utter lack of political will in solving the ethnic tensions plaguing the region, PUDR strongly condemns the killings of adivasis and urges the NDFB (S) leadership to take responsibility for its retaliatory and reprehensible actions. According to a recent news report on the death toll, it is stated that of the 80 bodies found so far, more than 40 are those of children, women or men above 60 years. Besides, the carnage, like previous ones, has led to widespread internal displacement of the adivasi population who fled their homes following the massacre.
The history of this violence by the state and militant groups is part and parcel of the fractured processes of agreements that governments in power have made with certain armed groups, leaving other groups discontented. In Assam the settlement signed between the Government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers in 2003, created the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD). However, in the process the Government not only failed to win over other armed factions but also created a situation of skewed representation of the majority non-Bodos in the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC). Thus resentment between both the Bodo and non Bodo communities has not died but only increased. The killing of 8 Bodo civilians by adivasi mobs after the incident on December 23, 2014 bears witness to the fragile and strained relationship between the Bodos and non-Bodos.
In this environment where the state continues to play its part in intensifying ethnic divisions, the AFSPA nurtures militancy by creating an environment of terror and fear which have engulfed different ethnic groups in a cycle of vengeance. PUDR demands the immediate repeal of AFSPA. PUDR demands that militants groups like NDFB(S) respect the fundamental right to life of civilians in armed conflict areas. Further, we also demand that the Government acknowledge that the December carnage is a part of a warring political problem and engage with it through democratic methods.
Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Bahl