Latest killing of a Manipuri youth by Army personnel has brought into focus the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) being questioned by human rights groups and put to test by voters later this week to elect a new Assembly. The AFSPA gives special powers to the Army to search, arrest, and kill suspected militants and grants immunity to personnel engaged in decades-long insurgency.
Most Political parties want the law repealed or drastically downgraded with many politicians even promising to get the law repealed if elected to power. But such promises are hollow as the federal government can overrule the state to ensure law and order in a state where more than 20,000 people have died since 1960s.
The law was passed in 1958 to the army says that it needs such laws in an area that is mountainous, border porous, and people little understood. To make matters worse, states in the Northeast fight against each other vying for larger territory, religious dominance, and ethnic superiority. The army says that with such a law, political carpet-bagging will make army personnel often operating in extreme conditions and situations vulnerable to unnecessary embarrassment and vilification.
Human Rights groups disagree and accuse the army of indiscriminate violence that includes rape, murder, torture, and excessive force with impunity. They say that army personnel react negatively when their peers are killed by insurgents. Periodically, people protest but activists say that there was a marginal increase in documented abuses. Last year, they cited 18 cases of excesses.
Independent observers say that the AFSPA law was created because of a paranoia state of mind of policy makers who do not believe in due process.
Situated 1,500 kilometers away in remotely located region, Manipur is one of the poorest states in India ruled for the most part by the Congress party. This is partly because of the ongoing insurgency but is largely because of incompetence of political leaders of the region.