That India thrives on contradictions is well known, these are often touted as perfect examples of the country’s unity in diversity. The concept has its advantages so long as it is kept within limits of national probity. When governance becomes a victim of these contradictions it is national interests that are put to stake. Take the instance of the ongoing matter of the Augusta Westland helicopters deal, instead of going after those who may have taken bribes the thrust is on cancelling the deal and also putting in jeopardy other weapon acquisition processes crucial for maintaining the military balance of the country, is this not a type of contradiction that can hurt national interest?
A second example is the social turmoil caused by the rape case in New Delhi on December, 16, 2012. Instead of looking for enabling legislations and police reforms required to deal with such horrendous crimes, the focus is on amendment of legislations like the armed forces special powers act (AFSPA) that assist in maintaining security in the most sensitive, terrorist inflicted regions of the country. This constitutes a classic contradiction, digression and complication of the main issue in a manner that deflects attention.
Arguments in favour of revoking or modifying the AFSPA range from the impractical to the bizarre. It is being said that the Indian government is not revoking the act due to pressure from the armed forces. One would wish fervently that the defense minister would similarly wilt under pressure from the armed forces and expedite purchase of weapons and military hardware whose critical shortage is negatively affecting the defense preparedness of the country. The overwhelming perception is that the government is insensitive to the needs and demands of the defense establishment, in between there are these voices that claim an unnatural power that the defense forces hold over the government, is this not contradiction at its best?
The reason why the government is not ready to change the provisions of the AFSPA or go for its revocation, partial or otherwise, is not the stand taken by the military on the subject. It is the firm conviction, based on innumerable intelligence inputs and advise of experts, that a decision of this nature would have far reaching adverse consequences on the security paradigm in states facing terrorism and insurgency. This is also one of the few subjects in which the government enjoys unequivocal support from the opposition; surely the collective wisdom of the country’s leadership should carry more weight than the jaundiced views of a few holding vested interests.
Take the instance of the unfortunate turmoil that has hit the Kashmir valley in the aftermath of the hanging of Afsal Guru. It has ignited sentiments that may necessitate calling in the army. If Kashmir can rise in this manner due to a single incident, is it proper to say that the region is normal enough to withdraw the army? If the AFSPA had been removed say a year back, as was the demand from some quarters, what would the government have done now? Called an overnight session of the parliament or passed an ordinance to once again invoke the act in the trouble torn region? Would that not have put the nation into a compromised and untenable position?
What is being conveniently sidelined is the personnel serving in the Indian armed forces come under a different set of military laws – the Army Act, 1950; the Air Force Act 1950 and the Navy Act 1957. These military laws have a provision whereby a person of the defense establishment committing a crime like rape can be tried by both criminal law and court martial. There have been instances where military personnel have been awarded life imprisonment for charges of rape by the civil courts. Hence, to say that the personnel of the armed forces are above the law of the country is a fallacy. The fact is that they are governed by a different set and different procedure of law which is more stringent than the one applied to their civilian counter parts. This is one reason why these personnel are not known to indulge in such heinous crimes to the extent that is being seen in the civil society of the country today, the other more important being their inherent discipline and humanity. The AFSPA does not come in the way of meting out punishment to defaulters should the need arise. The entire debate is being carried out on an emotional platform without taking into consideration military law and its interface with the Indian penal code.
Agreed the Verma panel has given a recommendation which, in spirit, says that security persons who rape women should be tried only under civilian law. It is now up to the government to understand the merits of the suggestion and see how it can be related to the military law already in place. It was in this regard that the law minister, while speaking on the subject, said that there were problems in the implementation of these suggestions.
Another weird argument being forwarded for revocation of AFSPA is that army personnel in other parts of the country are living well enough without its provisions being in place. In all such stations the army is not being called upon to go out in the middle of the night to fight terrorists. In these stations soldiers enjoy a well deserved peaceful existence for a short period before being called upon to put their life in danger in insurgency and terrorism afflicted areas once again. To expect them to do so and then take the rounds of the courts to save themselves from legal action amounts to asking for too much
It would be best to leave security out of the ambit of contradictory social debates since it is security which creates the platform for carrying out these discussions in the first case. Try talking about anti-rape laws with a gun wielding radical element.