We want one country, one law, not one country, two laws: Binalakshmi Nepram

by Binalakshmi Nepram | Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Humanitarian, writer and activist Binalakshmi Nepram made an impassioned appeal for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a law enacted first by the British when they ruled India to thwart Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement in 1942.

She said the law itself was not the problem: “It’s massive bad governance for 60 years.”

“This act has to go,” Nepram said to loud applause at the Times Lit Fest 2016 session “Does India Need AFSPA?”, moderated by writer Raghu Karnad, here on Sunday. “The removal of AFSPA is the greatest confidence-building measure the government can do (sic) to its people,” she said, adding, “It will take the sting out of the insurgency.”

Earlier, senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan laid out the government’s reasoning and said he “strongly believed” that if the “stated rationale” for the law were to be understood, and its working on the ground analysed,“we would become supporters of those who demand that this law be scrapped or modified”.

AFSPA does not grant blanket immunity, Varadarajan said. “The drafters themselves thought the law may be misused,” he added.

Nepram said the politicians, and not the military, were not to blame. “In 1958 (when AFSPA was imposed in the Naga Hills), parliamentarians said, ‘Only three months,’” she said, adding, “Imagine, you can’t contain an insurgency for 60 years! What does it say? … It’s a policy failure.”

She said the people of the Northeast states, where AFSPA is in force, are not saying no to the Army. “They should be there, but at the borders, guarding the country… against other countries,” Nepram said. By imposing AFPSA in the Northeast “you’re saying all in the Northeast are external aggressors”, the writer-activist said, adding that Manipuris were as Indian as anybody else and were “not anti-national”. She illustrated her point with an example from history: In the 16th century Manipuri kings fought the Chinese and took prisoners of war who taught them to make silk. “We want one country, one law, not one country, two laws,” she said.

The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee had recommended the government scrap the law, but there has been no action till date. Varadarajan recalled the Pathribal encounter case in Jammu & Kashmir — where the Army after years, and on the Supreme Court’s prodding, said it had initiated a court of inquiry that had found its men innocent but later told the CIC there had been no inquiry — and suggested the courts should have done more. “The courts have a lot to answer for,” he said.


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