On 26/11, AFSPA and Mein Tera Khun Pi Jaounga Mentality
By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
Terror is no prerogative of a handful dehumanized individuals or fanatics or non-state entities. Modern states and their hegemonic narratives and practices do claim on the territory of terror as well. Playing with the normative and institutional mechanisms of a civilized human existence, terror perpetrated and perpetuated by forces from all sides has come to rule our contemporary life. For instance, the state as an institution that, as Weber puts it, ‘claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force’ has come to increasingly claim on the ‘illegitimate use’ of physical force as well. In that, it comes as more than a coincidence that just as 9/11, 2001 drew the attention of the global audience to the terror of some, some of us have also been reminded of the terror that was formally inaugurated on 9//11, 1958 as the President of the largest democracy sanctioned the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers as a ‘law’.
26/11: The Mumbai Spectacle
Thinking about the anniversary of 26/11, I can’t help but to imagine those civilians who lost their lives in the hands of illegitimate violence of those who sought to expand the sphere of war that they thought or think they were/are carrying out for whatever reasons to civilian spaces and deliberately target unarmed and innocent civilians. I can’t help but sense how those innocent civilians must have felt then and the trauma that their near and dear ones must have gone through then and for that matter now.
It also reminds me of the tragically comical responses of the mighty Indian State as it deployed all sorts of security agencies, from local police to paramilitary forces to regular military and its elite forces, to deal with a few men who assaulted on not only the civilians but also civilized norms.
I also remember the senseless euphoria, amidst those myriads of security forces which scrambled and sweated out to take charge of the situation, as the media had turned the tragic incident into an ‘eventful spectacle’ for a population who consumed a dose of “nationalistic” emotions that camouflaged how ill-equipped and disturbing were the responses to the assault.
Incidentally, the majority of the folks in this country seemed to have suddenly discovered only then on 26/11 that their policemen were using outdated weapons (such as 303 riffles), despite having seen and lived with those policemen day in day out!
To these people, the possibility of looking at those civilians who died on 26/11 as victims of not only the assault by those criminals but also due to the ensuing confrontation between them and (the responses of) the security forces will never occur. In fact, such a thought will come to them as ‘un-patriotic’, if not seen by them as something that belongs to propaganda of the traitors and enemy. Established norms of a democratic polity which seeks to account for the nature and consequences of the forces deployed by the state agencies, which followed such operation in other western democracies, will be lost in a melodramatic ethos of `mein tera khun pi jaunga`.
Indeed, 26/11 once again reminds me of the saying that modern ideology, including liberal democracy, is ‘skin deep in South Asia’. Thus, ‘rule of law’ as ‘institutional restraints on power’ under a liberal democratic polity does not matter much in this country in which ‘Government’ is translated as ‘Sarkar’. Didn’t some say, India, as a colonial state, is a ‘garrison state’, and that there is continuity between the ‘colonial’ and ‘postcolonial’ state in South Asia? As such, this country has a police force, which was established by the colonial rulers to primarily protect the ruler (‘regime’) rather than the citizens, continue to remain more or less the same as it operates under the rules set up by the colonial masters (e.g., Police Act of 1861, IPC etc).
In fact, the issue of equipping the agencies of the state that exercise state violence so as to make them function effectively and efficiently without subverting the normative and institutional imperatives of a democratic polity is not a part of the general consciousness or orientation. Thus, in this country, ‘special’ police/force or law primarily means to allow the exercise of state violence free from the imperatives of restraints demanded by the normative and institutional mechanisms of a democratic polity.
26/11: A Reminder of AFSPA
In this sense, 26/11 brings to me these issues that have troubled one’s conscience which is deeply connected with the issues that the notorious AFSPA implicates.
It reminds me again that to fight ‘proxy war’ (of which 26/11 seemed to be an obvious example), one doesn’t require AFSPA. If ‘proxy war’ by an enemy country against India and extortions etc were the reasons for this Act to operate, Mumbai and many other places would have been under this Act.
The fact is, this legislation doesn’t have words like ‘insurgent’ or ‘terrorists’ or any definition that come close to these words in it. In fact, AFSPA does not target the so-called ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorist’; it targets an entire population who reside in a ‘disturbed area’. Under this Act, any resident in the ‘disturbed area’ can be picked up or questioned or imposed restriction on her/his freedom of movement or killed. If a citizen survives this assault on her or his fundamental rights (including ‘Right to Life’), it is the ‘decision’ of the military personnel who operate under the Act; for the AFSPA gives that power to ‘decide’ to, not the Court or any civilian authority but, armed men and women of the military!
One is made to believe that AFSPA is invoked because of the ‘armed rebellion’ (or armed insurgency) that threatens the security of the nation or that there is a ‘low intensity conflict’ (that the army is required shows that the conflict is an ‘armed conflict’) in these areas wherein the AFSPA has been invoked.
However, when the Supreme Court upheld such a law as ‘constitutional’, it categorically says that there is no material on record to show that the ‘disturbed condition’ is due to ‘armed rebellion’! Not only that, the judgment goes on to insist that the condition does not constitute a ‘threat’ to the ‘security of the nation’ as envisaged in Article 352 of the Constitution! Incidentally, had the Supreme Court acknowledged that the condition was ‘due to armed rebellion’ and it threatened the ‘national security’, the AFSPA would have been clearly unconstitutional as it bypassed Article 352 (a provision which says that if the national security is under threat due to ‘armed rebellion’, emergency must be declared) that allowed the deployment of special measures, including military violence, which are accountable to the democratic institutions such as the Parliament. Ingenuity of the Indian State and its cultural moorings of ‘argumentative’ character have allowed the AFSPA to escape such forms of institutional accountability.
Correspondingly, on the other hand, the Government of India has never acknowledged officially that there is an ‘armed conflict’ (of non-international kind) in the areas wherein the AFSPA has been invoked!
This brings us to some a crucial question: If (a) AFSPA doesn’t deal with ‘terrorism’ or ‘insurgency’ (there is whatsoever no definition of these words in the Act), (b) crucial spaces in this country (like metropolitan cities) which are under the threat of ‘proxy war’ by an enemy country are not under AFSPA, (c) the ‘disturbed condition’ wherein the Act has been invoked is not due to ‘armed rebellion’, and (d) the Government of India has never said that there is an ‘armed conflict’ in these places, then why use state violence with ‘special’ measures that free the violence of the state from the normative and institutional accountability under its democratic polity? To think of it, this is a political question, not a legal one. And it is not a central concern of mechanism for addressing grievances of human right abuses either.
These are issues that people must think of when they fight against ‘terror’ or AFSPA. But then, 26/11 reminds me of the fact that reasons and facts and democratic ethos and its imperatives do not matter much in this country. What matters most is the sense and sensibility of melodramatic emotions that feed, and is fed by, some kind of nationalism, which, in turn, unfortunately continues to subvert the democratic polity in this country. And in a similar sense, a ‘projectization’ of the movement against AFSPA, largely driven by a legalistic take on the same, has allowed the terror of AFSPA to continue. Sooner we realize this, better it will be for all of us.