Ending AFSPA in Nagaland: Current Trends and Prospects
On 4 December 2021, the Indian Army’s 21 Para Special Forces opened fire on a civilian truck, mostly coal miners, in the Mon district of Nagaland. Fourteen civilians were killed by security forces, claiming that they had acted on a tip-off on a rebel movement. The death of the miners led to violent clashes between local people and military soldiers, in which seven civilians and one soldier died.
army and home ministry [MHA] Deeply regretted the incident as a case of “misidentification and “intelligence failure”. Following the Som incident, the Ministry of Home Affairs constituted a seven-member panel to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. [AFSPA] in Nagaland. The panel was to submit its report by February 9, which was extended to March 26.
However, on the contrary, the Home Ministry also declared Nagaland a ‘disturbed area’ and extended the AFSPA in the state for six months.
AFSPA in Nagaland
AFSPA was introduced to control the volatile situation in the region. However, AFSPA has become a model for human rights violations over the years. There is a general lack of data about such breaches in the public domain. Nevertheless, the complaints arising out of the presence of AFSPA are evident from the inconsistency in the available data.
In 2015, the figures for civilian and insurgent deaths according to the South Asian Terrorism Portal [SATP] There are 14 and 24. Data presented in Rajya Sabha shows civilian and rebel deaths on 9 and 29. Discrepancies in data, or lack thereof, generally indicate a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of government agencies towards human rights violations. According to the National Human Rights Commission, the pendency of cases of custodial deaths in 2015 was 12.
The violence in Mon district has worsened the current situation in the direction of the peace process in the state, amid the already existing anger towards AFSPA and exemptions given to security forces under the law. In 2021, the Nagaland Legislative Assembly demanded an apology from government officials as well as repeal of AFSPA.
Removal of AFSPA: A View of Other States
Demands for greater autonomy and sovereignty as well as resorting to armed rebellion are a common feature of insurgency in the northeastern states. Therefore, to assess the feasibility of removing AFSPA from Nagaland, we look to other northeastern states, particularly Mizoram where AFSPA was repealed.
Earlier, the government had repealed AFSPA from Mizoram in 1986, Meghalaya in 2018 and parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura in 2015. In all states, the government had successfully weakened the insurgent groups concerned before the repeal of AFSPA.
In Mizoram, this weakening was done through a structured and sustained response over time with both military aggression and political engagement. The next subsection takes an in-depth look at the state’s response to the Mizo insurgency.
Mizoram conflict: origins and state response
The rebellion in Mizoram began with the establishment of the Mizo National Front. [MNF] By Pu Laldenga in 1961. The rebel group demanded a separate state for Mizos and an independent Mizoram.
As discussed below, the insurgency appears to be a reaction to a chain of events, beginning with the 1959 famine in Mizoram. The inadequate relief response by the Assam government created resentment among the Mizos.
Since separatist tendencies were already present, the inadequate state response added to this feeling. In March 1966, Mizo Hills was declared a disturbed area under the ‘Assam Disturbed Areas Act’, leading to the enforcement of AFSPA. Soon, Indian Air Force [IAF] To stop the insurgency, it flew over Aizawl along with other areas with bullets and bombs. These attacks inflicted heavy casualties on both civilians and rebels and destroyed large parts of the city.
In 1967, a scheme called ‘Group of Villages’ was launched to curb MNF controlled interior villages in Mizoram. These villages were classified as ‘protected and progressive villages’. [PPVs] by the Central Government. However, PPV can be viewed no less than concentration camps.
The conglomerate villages probably cut off the rebels’ food and money supplies to protect the villagers from the MNF. An important effect of these groups was the displacement of people from their native villages where jhoom Or shifted farming was the primary source of livelihood and food security. Later the villagers started Jhum cultivation in PPV. However, the lack of land resulted in a shortage of food (ibid).
Subsequently, the first round of discussions for a peace agreement between the MNF and the Government of India began in 1976. The MNF and the Government of India reduced violence in the region through greater transparency in meetings and goals and objectives.
The MNF agreed to suspend its violent activities, and the Indian government decided to halt its military operations in the region. Since the MNF was the major insurgent force in the region, it was easy to negotiate a peace settlement and resolve the conflict.
AFSPA in Mizoram: Lessons from Mizoram to Nagaland
The church played an important role in framing the grievances of the Mizo people, who had faced abuse due to AFSPA. In 1972, Mizoram was initially turned into a union territory through negotiations.
Mizoram People’s Conference [MPF] Was elected for a full term in 1979. In the light of a stable political environment conducive to peace talks, the Indian National Congress returned to power with the support of the MPF.
On 30 June 1986, the Mizo Peace Accord was signed, which granted statehood to Mizoram on 20 February 1987 as per the 1986 State Act. In 1986, the Government of India officially repealed AFSPA from the state.
Peace talks in Mizoram were possible only with a significant drop in militancy. The decline in rebellion was the result of punitive action using armed forces and village groups. Both had dire consequences for civilians in the region. Simultaneously, the Indian government relied on political affiliations with the Mizo rebels.
This engagement included the preservation of Mizo customary laws and de-radicalization efforts by the Church. A significant drop in violence can also be seen in neighboring states such as Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, where AFSPA has been repealed in recent years.
In Nagaland, casualties to civilians and insurgents were relatively high during 2009–2014. The primary reasons for this include inter-terrorist killings, extortion and law and order problems. However, in the last 2-3 years, there can be a lot of decline. Nagaland recorded three murders in 2018-2019 and two in 2020-2021.
The possibility of removing the AFSPA from Nagaland rests on the government’s review panel which provides a roadmap for the peace process. This will require investigation of AFSPA and related complaints among the Nagas.
However, the major problem is the lack of data and transparency regarding the violation of rights. Amidst all this, the Mon event is likely to become a hindrance as it has only increased mistrust and grievances.
A key issue in the Naga conflict has been the presence of various factions, all fighting for the Greater Nagalim. The government, over the years, has failed to bring all the stakeholders to the negotiating table. This has created multiple sources of grievance and undermined the peace process. In the midst of this situation, the story of Naga versus India (us versus them) can be revived by the recent killings in Som and the expansion of AFSPA.
However, after analyzing the pattern of other states like Mizoram, one can say that the conditions are ready to end AFSPA in Nagaland. Low insurgency rates and the ongoing peace process are two conditions that make repeal of the law more viable.
The way forward should include resolution of grievances, confidence-building and a time-bound plan for completing the peace process, which benefits both sides.
Also read: People of local language states should speak in Hindi instead of English: Amit Shah
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