Armed Forces Special Power Act and women safety

Maitri Tandon, Student of Law, Symbiosis Law School

ABSTARCT

This research paper concerns in itself the scenario of the northeastern and the northern states of our country, India after the inception of the Armed Forces Special Power Act. The researcher has penned down her own views on, what should be the ambit of area in which the Act should be imposing. Here, in this paper various cases are cited, issues are raised and the researchers analysis followed by a conclusion. The article demonstrates the condition of women in the states where Armed Forces Special Power Act is in power. As such this article should be of interest to a broad readership including those interested in Law, Human Rights, Women Empowerment, and Social Sciences. Views expressed in this article are of authors alone. It does not reflect the views of either publisher or the editors of the journal.

Introduction

Women, the gender that signifies courage, strength and at the same time is a figure for love, compassion and pliability has faced a lot of refinement, vehemence, bias, injustice and cold-heartedness since the inception of humankind. How ironical is it to have been worshiped and thrown ruthlessly on the roads at the same time? Experiencing both the behaviors together has helped women in empowering themselves and has made the government to consider their demands and rights first. The time of crisis has helped them the most.

Time of crisis can be empowering for women across the world, as they are pushed to brink of activism and sometimes, away from their traditional roles1. Nevertheless current research has established that conflict and militarism are more likely to create environments that repress and harm women disproportionately, compared to men2.

This is the case particularly in ‘cold’ states of conflicts and authoritarianism. Opportunity for a change in the condition of women in these areas becomes difficult in the form of transitional political reform, rights as such women not only suffer sustained economic and social hardships and gendered violence, but also perpetual restriction on their ability to address these violation through the full exercise of their civil and political rights. Patterns of violence and repression become self-perpetuating, and the damage done to individual’s roots deep into the social fabric of the country3.

Unfortunately such is the situation in Indian ‘low intensity war’ states across North and East. These states, the seven sisters and Jammu and Kashmir are fully or partially governed by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA). There have been situations when these states have suffered from draconian rule and militarization for more than 50 years in concurrence with other state and national security laws4. Even though India is well open to the International Human Rights Treaties, author is of the opinion that, AFSPA breaches these guidelines by derogating the key human rights and also robbing the non-army personnel of the legal remedies/recourses for offences committed by the armed forces of the nation.

The Problem

  • Is the Armed Forces Special Power Act constitutional also;
  • Is it in weight with the humanity?

The Armed Forces (Special Power) Act

The unwarranted interference of the British colonies on the Indian Territory gradually led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri conflict of 1891 with the Second World War the principle, The Naga Movement and also the failure of the new India to live up to the democratic principles treasured in its Constitution and in respecting the rights of the nationalities it had taken within its borders and several other reasons, marked the inception of the idea for this act5.

Eventually on 22 May 1958 after a brief discussion in the parliament that lasted merely for 3 hours The Armed Forces (Assam – Manipur) Special Power Act was passed. This act was further amended in 1990 when it broadened its ambit to Jammu and Kashmir. Armed forces (Special Power) Act gives blanket powers to the Army.

Legal Provisions Powers Bestowed over the Army

The section 1 to 3 of the Act covers the jurisdiction, the definition of ‘armed forces’ and also briefly defines  ‘disturbed’ and the power to declare area such as. While section 4 is comprehensively lays down the power given to the army: it allows any army personnel the sweeping power to arrest, without a warrant, “any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence” using any degree of force necessary, including lethal force, and to fire upon or use force “for the maintenance of public order” against persons who are contravening laws in the disturbed areas.

It prohibits “the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of firearms, ammunition or explosive substances.” Searches of persons and premises can be made without a warrant, while goods “reasonably suspected to be stolen” can be confiscated and structures that could be in use by insurgents, destroyed.

According to Section 5, anyone arrested by the army must be handed to police, not within a specific time period, but “with least possible delay”. Finally, Section 6 ensures that army personnel are accountable only to internal regulation and punishment, stating: “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.

This immunity given to the army also extends to the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which according to Section 19 of the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), is not empowered to investigate apparent violations by the armed forces in areas governed by AFSPA6.

Analysis

The constitutionality of the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act was questioned by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, when India presented its second periodic report to the UNHRC in 1991. India defended the Act by stating that this Act was a necessary measure to prevent the secession of the Northern Eastern states. The Attorney General said that a response to this agitation for secession in the North East had to be done on a “war footing”. He argued for the constitutionality of the act by quoting Article 355 of the Indian Constitution, which makes it the duty of the Central Government to protect the states from internal disturbance and that there is no duty under international law to allow secession7.

It may also be assumed that the Central government might argue for its constitutionality by testifying it with avery persuasive jurisprudential theory given by Sir Jeremy Bentham, the theory of utilitarianism, which states that “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand, the standard of right and wrong, on the other, the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne”. This theory can also be explained in simple words, law that provides greater good of greater number is the law of man is deemed to be blameless. Therefore by applying this theory the government may say that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act safeguards the mass of the country by sacrificing the rights of some. Thus, is deemed to be constitutional.

But the question that again arises is that is it legitimate/constitutional to let the armed personnel perform heinous crimes under the cover of the act, for they are guarding our nation and flexibly set aside the rights of women provided by the constitution?

Indian Law

There are many cases, which challenge the constitutionality of this act pending in the court of law, but in this paper we will be specifically dealing with women rights, therefore we will point out the laws which are breached by armed personnel under the blankets of AFSPA.

Violation of Art 14 – Right of Equality before Law

The Constitution of India with its Art 14 ensures equality before the law. People living within the territory of India are to be treated equally before the law, which means that the law applies to all, irrespective of the caste, wealth, position, the clan a person, comes from. AFSPA thoroughly violates this right as people who are residing in the areas declared as disturbed have been denied this right because of Section 6 of the Act, which prevents the citizens from filing a suit against any personnel for armed forces without prior sanction of Central Government. This unequally burdens and demotivates the class of people residing in the “disturbed areas’.

Violation of Art 21 – Right to life

The constitution of India guarantees the right to life to its citizens under Article 21, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”, which is violated by Section 4 of the Act. The Armed Forces (Special Power) Act deprives the women of an effective penal remedy against forced sexual intercourse/rape performed by the guarding force of our nation; it violates their right to privacy and bodily integrity, aspect of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

Violation of Sec. 375 of the Indian Penal Code

This Section of the Indian Penal Code defines Rape, “ a man is said to commit “rape” who, except in the case hereinafter excepted, has sexual intercourse with a women under circumstances falling under any of the six following description:-

  1. Against her will.
  2. Without her consent.
  3. With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested in fear of death or of hurt.
  4. With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband, and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be law­fully married.
  5. With her consent, when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by him personally or through another of any stupe­fying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent.
  6. With or without her consent, when she is under sixteen years of age.

Explanation– Penetration is sufficient to constitute the sexual intercourse necessary to the offence of rape.

Exception – Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.

  • Manipur- (a) In clause sixthly, for the word “sixteen” substitute the word “fourteen”; and

(b) In the Exception, for the word “fifteen” substitute the word “thirteen”. [Vide Act 30 of 1950, sec. 3 (w.e.f. 16-4-1950) (made earlier than Act 43 of 1983)]. Himachal Pradesh, (1989) Cr LJ 841: AIR 1989 SC 702.

Rape being the heinous crime, which is colossally prevalent in our country and is even more aggressively boycotted unfortunately, tops the list of crimes committed by our soldiers. There are no provisions, which are successfully being undertaken by the government, due to non-cooperation by the Indian army. One of the examples would be when Justice Verma Commission said in unequivocal terms that security persons who rape women should be judged under the same act that applies to the civilians, which was opposed by the Army8also when the Jeena Commission appointed to inquire into the alleged rape and murder of 30 year old Manorama Devi of Imphal in Manipur suggested that the law should be repealed and the clauses that are required should be integrated with other All India laws the Government did not even publish the report.

The facts of the Manorama Devi case were, in the early hours of the morning, on July 11, 2004, 29-year-old Manorama was picked up from her house in Imphal and taken away by the Assam Rifles. Three hours later her body was found with eight bullet injuries in a field. The Assam Rifles says she wanted to relieve herself and while doing so attempted to escape. She was, therefore, shot and killed. To the public, however, it appeared incredible that a four-foot eleven inch girl, weighing 50 kgs., should escape from eight highly trained jawans in an open field with nobody around. Public unrest engulfed the whole state. Aman immolated himself. Women stripped naked outside the headquarters of the Assam Rifles inviting rape and executions. In the inquiry set up under the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act, Manorama’s brother testified that he saw a jawan pull up Manorama’s T-shirt and insert a kitchen knife into her underwear prior to arresting her. The former police surgeon and chief Medical Officer of the Manipur Health Service and another doctor deposed that she was killed at close rage while in a lying down position. She had bullet injuries in her vagina. Apart from the bullet wounds, there were other injuries caused by blunt object. The Central Forensic Science Laboratory reported semen stains on her petticoat. A resident of the area, who was in the field at that time, contradicted the Assam Rifles version saying that she saw jawans alight from the vehicle with a lifeless body of Manorama and placed her in the field and then she heard the sound of gunshots. Policeman deposed saying that they did not find spent cartridges in the area and there was not a drop of blood on the ground9.

The brutality and the double face of the Army has also been seen in many cases and operations, like:

Operation Blue Bird (Oinam, Bishunpur District, Manipur)

This operation was launched by the Indian Army on the 11th of July 1987 at Oinam in Manipur, in which more than 30 naga villages were covered and included extensive and cruel violations of the Human Rights violations which included torture with extrajudicial killing in addition to sexual harassment, theft and loot.

Kunan Poshpora (Kupwara District, Jammu and Kashmir)

The Kunan Poshpora search operation was initiated by the Indian Army on 23rd February 1991 during which the Indian Army personnel raped nearly hundred women including pregnant women openly in front of the villagers and there was no clear inquiry, which was held to follow up the condition. Reportedly, a police officer was threatened many times to not to make the report public, which recorded.

Shopian Case (Shopian district, Jammu and Kashmir)

On 29th May 2009 two girls from Shopian district went missing on the way back from orchard. Their dead bodies were found the next morning. This was a case of gang rape based on the information given by the Forensic lab by the Army personnels who were camped nearby10.

The Armed Forces (Special Power) Act 1958 was enacted on experimental basis as a measure against “terrorist” groups in the North East for a period of six months. This experimental project which was enacted for Six months has now been enacted for over five decades and there has been no declination of the number of such groups in the North East they have just increased from two in to twenty in Manipur, Assam has not less than fifteen, Meghalaya has five of them and other States have more groups. How has the government allowed an act to stay even when the “experimental” measure has failed to achieve its major goal?

Conclusion

The main aim of writing this paper was to familiarize readers with the harsh reality regarding The Army. On the basis of the aforesaid information we arrive at the conclusion that, even though the Army is deployed for our protection and it is saving the Nation with its fullest strength. It is important for the government to keep a check or intervene in the functioning of the force where it is bestowed with unquestionable power through AFSPA.

When the country is fighting against the sexual assaults, which are prevalent in the Nation is it rational to have the force that is deployed for the protection and betterment of the country to take advantage of the immunity provided to them under the Act? No. Why is it that the culprits are exempted from the punishment?

The government should punish all the criminals in accordance to the principle of equity. No, offenders should be exempted from the punishment just because of the immunity bestowed on the institution he is working for. There is no reason why an offender should have a distinguished law. They should be dealt under the law of land and should be punished in the same way as “civil” criminals.

 

  1. Gardem and Chalesworth, 2000, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). []
  2. Id. []
  3. Gardem and Chalesworth, 2000,UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). []
  4. Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 and  National Security Act 1980 []
  5. Armed Forces Special Power Act: A study in National Security Tyranny []
  6. It can only seek a report from or make recommendations to the central government, and require that it be informed of action taken on a case within three months [Armed Forces Special Power Act: A study in National Security tyranny]. []
  7. Armed Forces Special Power Act: A study in National Security tyranny. []
  8. Walter Fernandes, AFSPA: Who Rules India? []
  9. The Murder Of Manorama; The Human Rights Bimonthly []
  10. Available at http://www.countercurrents.org/nitesh171114.htm []