The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 has the distinction of being one of the most draconian laws passed by the Indian democracy. It allows the military powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill, and to occupy or destroy property in counterinsurgency operations.
The AFSPA facilitates a justification to the violence meted out to civilians in Kashmir under the guise of national security. Tales of wanton violence, rape, torture, racism and stigmatization are slowly becoming the face of AFSPA. Every Kashmiri has tale of humiliation that he/she has suffered at the hands of the armed forces. This has further estranged one of India’s cornerstones, the army and the Kashmiris.
Successive Indian governments have frittered away a chance to integrate Kashmir with India by letting the anger and resentment of the people fester. By piggybacking on the AFSPA, India believes it can maintain a strong hold on the civilians. However, if it introspects, it will realize that the backlash that is playing out in Kashmir is the result of continuous suppression by the state and the armed forces.
A generation that has had to experience living under intense militarization for decades has been the litmus test and paradoxical content of the world’s largest democracy. Scrapping AFSPA, even if in a phased manner, will indicate a significant gesture on the part of the government to signify a change in attitude in solving what is being touted as one of the world’s unsolvable problems.
For a country that stands at the gateway of being a world super power, acts like AFSPA will lead to some uncomfortable questions on the integrity of India’s core values, its idea of democracy and the freedom of its people. India needs to be more accommodative of its internal problems and ensure that it does not succumb to myopic dubious plays. The nation must prove that it still stands true on it democratic ideals.
If a solution to the Kashmir problem is to be reached, India will need the backing of the Kashmiris. The phased scrapping of AFSPA and demilitarization of Kashmir will go a long way in making that happen.