Guest Post- Devika Mittal
In 2004, Thangjam Manorama, was brutally raped and murdered by Assam Rifles. She was arrested from her house at around 3 am on the allegation of being a “militant”. Her body was found a day later. There were bullet shots in her vagina and semen all over her skirt. To protest against this brutual rape and killing, a group of about 50 women had staged a nude protest in front of the Kangla fort.
They had raised slogans like “The Indian Army rape us”. This protest had forced the Manipur Government to act.
The Manipur Government had ordered an inquiry and submitted a report but the Guwahati High Court had rejected it saying that the Manipur Government does not have the authority. After continuous pressure, there were some developments in the case but they have not led to any result. Till now, there is no justice granted. This case was not an exception. Such incidents have happened before and continue to happen in areas where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) has been imposed. This is because AFSPA provides the armed forces with legal impunity.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) rules over eight states in India – North East India (except Sikkim) and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In the name of “upholding law and order”, the law gives the right to armed forces to arrest without warrant, shoot to kill any person on mere suspicion. The law protects the army persons with legal impunity. The guilty officers can be punished only after the central government issues a sanction. This is the main reason why today AFSPA has become a symbol of army arbitrariness and cruelty in AFSPA areas. AFSPA has resulted in fake encounters, rapes, torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
There is enough evidence to prove how the army is misusing its power not only to disregard the civilians but also the government and judiciary. Even when the judiciary does consider the cases, the armed forces refuse to co-operate and destroy or manipulate evidence. This has happened in many cases including the cases of operation bluebird. The armed forces had tortured the witnesses. They had also forced the victims and witnesses to sign on fake affidavits. They had also accused and undermined the authority of the Government officials.
Even in the case of Manorama, the guilty officers had shot several bullets in the vagina to destroy evidence. Many times, the Government itself had acknowledged cruelty of the army. The state government officials have in some cases in Manipur paid compensation to the victims of AFSPA. Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had acknowledged and felt “ashamed” of the Kunan Poshpora incident of Kashmir wherein atleast 50 women were raped by the soldiers of Rajputana Rifles in a single night. But the army alone cannot be blamed. In many cases, the central government has also refused to sanction the right to punish the guilty officers.
This is the hypocrisy of our democracy.
This is the hypocrisy of a country which claims to talk about human rights, which criticizes China for the atrocities committed on Tibet, which gives shelter to political refugees. India herself is doing the same thing. While we are proud to call ourself a democracy, we are giving so much power to the army. How can we justify this?
Also, while AFSPA, an anti-human law, does permit killing, the law does not permit sexual violence. How can the sexual violence be justified at all? This should not come under legal impunity. This was also one of the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee which was appointed in December 2012 to review laws for sexual crimes. The committee had recognized sexual violence by armed forces in AFSPA areas and had recommended that the sexual violence cases should be brought under ordinary criminal law.
The army must be held responsible. This will, in no way, “degrade” or “disrespect” the army as the army officials would like us to believe. We must respect our army. It is true that the soldiers do work in difficult situations. They do sacrifice their lives for us, whatever the motivation may be. But it should not mean that all of them are right. It does not mean all their acts are right or should be justified. These incidents are real, they are not fabrications and the guilty army persons should be punished. The cases of sexual violence have not only been reported from AFSPA states. There have been several reported cases of army men raping civilians in non-AFSPA states. While this does not mean that all army persons misuse their power, it does mean that some definitely do. The glorification of army and army persons serves like impunity even in non-AFSPA states. The army is there to protect us. That is their job. It is ofcourse difficult a task but that should not elate them to a position above human beings. They should be paid respect by being given better working conditions, a better salary and respect (which they truly deserve) but not blind faith. An army person should never feel insulted or degraded because of measures to ensure transparency and accountability. These measures will only increase the respect for army as an institution. The army cannot and should not have criminals in uniform. That should be seen as an insult to the army. This is a democracy and army being a part of the state must respect it.