The gunning down of 13 civilians by security forces in Nagaland led to the demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 from the Northeast with renewed vigour on Sunday.
Civil society groups, rights activists and political leaders of the region have been demanding the withdrawal of the “draconian” law for years, alleging excesses by security forces with impunity under the cover of the Act.
The AFSPA is in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (excluding Imphal Municipal Council Area), Changlang, Longding and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and areas falling within the jurisdiction of eight police stations of districts in Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam.
The North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), an umbrella body of students’ unions of the region, said the Centre should repeal the law if it is concerned about the welfare and well-being of the people of the Northeast.
“…otherwise it will only further alienate the people of the region,” NESO chairman Samuel B. Jyrwa said.
“The armed forces have been operating in the Northeast with impunity and they are further emboldened with the imposition of a draconian law known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA).”
The incident in Nagaland’s Mon brings back horrific memories of the past where on numerous occasions the security forces “massacred, tortured the innocent villagers and raped women” in the name of fighting insurgency, he claimed.
The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) chairman Pradyot Deb Barma said those responsible should be held accountable and laws like AFSPA have to be repealed.
Rajya Sabha member from Assam and senior journalist Ajit Kumar Bhuyan said the killing of the villagers should be an eye-opener for all. “Incidents like this are the reason we have been constantly protesting against renewal of draconian AFSPA. This is not the first incident, but I hope this is the last.”
All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) chief Advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharjya, said, “The action of the security forces is an unpardonable and heinous crime.”
He alleged that the incident showed the government’s unwillingness towards establishing peace and stability in the region, and said the “draconian and undemocratic” AFSPA should be revoked for the protection of the citizens.
Binalakshmi Nepram, the founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors’ Network and Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, hit out at the government, alleging that no security forces involved in killing civilians and indigenous people of the region have ever been charged or put behind bars for the wrongs done.
Terming the AFSPA a “colonial law”, Nepram maintained that it gives security forces a “licence to kill”.
National Award-winning filmmaker Utpal Borpujari said even as civilians were killed on the basis of “false intelligence”, AFSPA will give immunity to the perpetrators.
At least 13 civilians were gunned down by security forces in Nagaland’s Mon district and a soldier killed in rioting that followed, police said, adding that it is investigating whether the incident was a case of mistaken identity.
The incident had taken place between Oting and Tiru villages when some daily-wage labourers were returning home in a pick-up van from a coal mine on Saturday evening, police said.
The Army, on Sunday, ordered a Court of Inquiry into the killing of civilians and expressed deep regret over the incident.
Army officials said the operation in Mon district that borders Myanmar was carried out based on “credible” intelligence inputs about the likely movement of insurgents in the area.
It said the security forces suffered severe injuries in the operation.