Saturday, January 26, 2013

Verma Committee’s AFSPA Rrecommendations



Kashmiri leaders, both mainstream and dissident, have hailed Justice J. S Verma Committee’s report on Amendments to the Indian Criminal Law, and rightly so. While human rights violations in Kashmir in general and molestation of Kashmiri women in particular hardly provoke the conscience of the Indian middle class, the Verma Committee, constituted to pacify the anger of the powerful Indian middle class, has brought to light the need to be concerned about the dignity of women in conflict areas such as Kashmir and the immorality and irrationality of legal instruments like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). 

I have just finished reading the 600 plus-page long report submitted by the Verma Committee and I hope that this is indeed the beginning of a number of much-needed legal, judicial, administrative and police reforms in this country. The only concern is that numerous commissions and committees in the past have submitted reports and recommendations to the Government of India on each of these issues but not many recommended reforms have been carried out. Commissions and their recommendations are often used as time-buying strategies by the ruling regimes, and the people of Kashmir are well aware of that. 

On the question of AFSPA the Verma committee makes the following important observations: “At the outset, we notice that impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of Internal Security duties is being legitimized by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in force in large parts of our country. It must be recognized that women in conflict areas are entitled to all the security and dignity that is afforded to citizens in any other part of our country….There is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible. This is necessary for determining the propriety of resorting to this legislation in the area(s) concerned”.  A close and careful reading of these statements would reveal that this is a clear indictment of the atrocities committed in placed like Kashmir in the name of national security. 

The politics behind AFSPA abolition 
Over the past few years, the issue of AFSPA abolition has become the centerpiece of political debates in Kashmir. More so, it has also become a bargaining tool in the hands of politicians and various institutional interests in New Delhi and in the Valley. In 2011, when P. Chidambaram was still the Home Minister, there was a great deal of support in New Delhi to do away with the draconian legislation. Both the Home Minister and the Prime Minister seemed to be in favour of removing it from Kashmir while the Defense Minister, keen to pander to the parochial and institutional interests of the Armed Forces, was the only political leader opposed to it (of course, this does not include the Congress leaders in Kashmir such as Saifudeen Soz who have argued in favour of continuing with the controversial piece of legislation). 

What is unfortunate is that even though the infiltration rates have come down from the 2011 levels, New Delhi is still not serious about removing AFSPA from the valley. More so, there is more opposition to the removal of AFSPA today than there was in 2011. With Sushil Kumar Shinde, the new Union Home Minister, arguing during his visit to Kashmir late last year that “I know that peace has returned in Jammu and Kashmir with the consistent efforts of people. But this doesn’t mean that we can take risk and remove the AFSPA immediately”, it is now clear that the opposition to removing AFSPA has yet another strong opponent in New Delhi along with the Defense Ministry and the armed forces. Thanks to the recent LoC flare-up, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to say anything in the near future about removing AFSPA. 

Talk is cheap
From Barack Obama to Rahul Gandhi to Omar Abdullah, one thing seems to be common: “preach about change all the time, but never practice it”. Greenhorns in politics tend to climb the political ladder by playing to the revolutionary fantasies of common people. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s occasional statements on AFSPA peppered with anger and outrage, carefully calibrated and nationally televised, should be seen in that light. It is easy talk about the removal of AFSPA as it is easily one of the most popular things to do in today’s Kashmir, but it takes a great deal of political courage to actually do something about it. Omar Abdullah should use all the bargain tactics in the trick book of coalition politics and force the Congress party to heed to the voice of the Kashmiri people. Come the next Assembly election in J&K, there is no doubt that the AFSPA issue will be single most important litmus test of Omar Abdullah’s government’s performance in the state. Or is it that the Abdullah scion is waiting for the elections to approach in order to increase the heat on the AFSPA issue? Wouldn’t that be a bit too late? 

AFSAP, let us face it, continues to be a tool of human rights violations in the valley and it is now duly confirmed by a (Verma) high-level Panel appointed by the Government of India. Late last year, a well-researched report entitled “Alleged Perpetrators - Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir” put out by the International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir [IPTK] took pains to examine the issue in great detail. Politicians in New Delhi and Srinagar should read these reports carefully and take steps to remove AFSPA from the valley once and for all.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, January 27, 2013. URL: )

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