The recent killings of 14 civilians in Nagaland’s Mon district have once again revealed the squandered power of the Indian security forces under the controversial, draconian law -- Armed Forces Special Power (AFSPA) Act. Following the killings, the floodgates have re-opened with the old demand of repealing AFSPA -- the law that has been solely responsible for the killings of hundreds of innocent civilians and committing violence against women and children.-- and protection from its criminal prosecution.
The Special Power, since time immemorial, has allowed the Indian military and paramilitary forces to shoot down people suspected to be militants and terrorists, without the need of ascertaining their identities.
AFSPA with its dark history has caused major massacres across the nation since its inception. It has been deemed a controversial law, with human rights groups opposing it as being aggressive.
Several sections of the law violate the international human rights, granted to a citizen -- the right to life is violated by section 4(a), the right to liberty and security of a person is violated by section 4(c) and the right and the right to remedy is violated by section 6 of the AFSPA
What happened in Mon?
Acting upon the law, on December 6, the special forces in Nagaland’s Mon district killed 14 innocent civilians. Six people died on the spot after the security forces indiscriminately fired on a truck that was carrying eight coal miners. Following the discovery of the bodies, clashes broke out between the forces and the villagers, killing eight more and injuring at least 14 people. A Nagaland Police report has found the Army made no attempts to ascertain the identities of the people who were on the truck before opening fire on them.
The AFSPA has been long viewed as an act of oppression and abuse, and the impunity enjoyed by the militancy in several parts of the country has fueled ages of atrocities in AFSPA-imposed states.
On this International Human Right’s Day, which pledges for ‘Equality’, let’s look at a few incidents in the past that saw innocent civilians dying to AFSPA in fake encounters:
1. Malom Massacre
Manipur’s Irom Sharmila, one of the staunchest protestors against AFSPA, went on a hunger strike following the killings of 10 people who were waiting at a bus stop in the town of Malom, Manipur. The incident is infamously known as the ‘Malon massacre’.
In November 2000, these 10 civilians were gunned down by the 8th Assam Rifles at Malom Makha Leikai, near Imphal’s Tulihal airport. However, it was later alleged to be a fake encounter. While the troops claimed that there was an encounter underway, after the convoy had come under attack from extremists, the Manipur High Court observed that no such incidents were reported.
After 21 years, on Tuesday, the High Court ordered a compensation of Rs 5 lakhs for each of the families of the victims.
2. 1994 Fake Assam Encounter
In February 1994, troops of the 18 Punjab regiment based at Dhola in Tinsukia, picked up nine youths from their homes in Tinsukia district’s Talap area following the death of Rameshwar Singh, the general manager of the Assam Frontier Tea Limited at the Talap Tea Estate. Singh was allegedly killed by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) gunmen.
The civilians were picked up without any verification of their identity. After receiving reports of the missing men, a habeas corpus in the Gauhati High Court was filed. Following the court order, the special forces released four men, while the other five were taken on boats to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, where they were shot.
The boatmen, reportedly, were untraceable too. Post-mortem of the bodies revealed that the five men were brutally tortured before being killed.
In 2018, seven accused personnel were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
3. Sophian Fake Encounter
The Amshipora murders or the Sophian fake encounter refers to the killing of three Kashmiri labourers, including one minor, by the Indian armed forces in Amshipora village, Sophian district, Jammu and Kashmir. The incident took place on On July 18, 2020, when the armed forces alleged that they received inputs about the presence of militants in South Kashmir’s Sophian district and hence carried out the operation. However, later the families of the victims from the Rajouri district confirmed that they were innocent labours and not militants.
After conducting medical tests on the deceased, the same was confirmed. Following the incident, two Army personnel were arrested while one was detained under relevant sections of law.