NE: Law protects Army, who will protect civilians?

The Mon district incident in Nagaland, in which 13 civilians were killed during an anti-insurgency operation carried out by the Indian Army’s 21 Para Special Forces was widely covered by the media. It had sparked a huge public protest in the state, which has been eagerly waiting for peace for more than two decades now.
The controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, or AFSPA has come to the rescue of the soldiers involved in the operation. The law, which is fully or partially applicable to four states in the Northeast, including Nagaland, gives powers to the military to use force and even shoot any person whom it believes to be “acting in contravention of law and order” in a disturbed area.
India’s apex court has stayed criminal proceedings against 30 soldiers of 21 Para SF on the grounds that the Nagaland government failed to obtain prior sanction from the Centre as required under Section 6 of AFSPA, 1958.
The court order came on a petition filed by the wives of the soldiers involved in the operation, which they claimed, was carried out on the basis of intelligence inputs from various sources including the Nagaland police about movement of militants involved in the killing of an Assam Rifles officer in Manipur in November last year.
Earlier, the Nagaland Police had filed a charge-sheet against the 21 Para SF personnel in the case that took place on December 4, 2021. They pressed charges of murder as well as culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the soldiers.
According to PTI, the state police chief had said that the CID report seeking sanction for prosecution was forwarded to the Department of Military Affairs (under Ministry of Defence) in the first week of April this year and a reminder sent in May. The sanction is still awaited, he had said.
The fact of the matter is AFSPA does not guarantee absolute immunity to Army personnel, the Supreme Court had said in its 2016 order in the case of Manipur extrajudicial killings.
“The law is therefore very clear that if an offence is committed even by Army personnel, there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by the criminal court constituted under the CrPC. To contend that this would have a deleterious and demoralizing impact on the security forces is certainly one way of looking at it, but from the point of view of a citizen, living under the shadow of a gun that can be wielded with impunity, outright acceptance of the proposition advanced is equally unsettling and demoralizing, particularly in a constitutional democracy like ours,” the top court said.
In the Nagaland case, a special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the state submitted a separate report. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had also announced on Twitter that the SIT would “thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families”.

However, in the absence of prosecution sanction from the Centre, the wait for justice for the families of the slain civilians will get longer. This Centre-state legal tangle, ironically between two friendly governments, could also mean that the psychological trauma of civilians in Nagaland and other disturbed areas in the region will persist for the foreseeable future.

Barshashree Buragohain

Barshashree Buragohain was arrested on May 18 and charged under the UAPA for writing a poem titled “Akou Korim Rashtra Droh”.

A ‘seditious poem’
Alt News cofounder Mohammed Zubair was recently granted bail by the Supreme Court. He had faced a barrage of FIRs from the Uttar Pradesh police and was jailed for posting tweets that allegedly hurt religious sentiments.
In Assam, 19-year-old college student Barshashree Buragohain walked out of prison on Friday. Her crime – she had written a poem, which according to the state, was seditious. She was booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on May 18 for posting a poem ‘Akou Korim Rashtra Droh’ (will rebel against the nation, again) on a social media platform. Since then, she had been in jail until the Gauhati High Court granted her bail on Thursday.
The police alleged Buragohain was planning to join the banned rebel group, the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) or ULFA (I), led by Paresh Baruah.
“She wrote an anti-national poem…If her parents or someone take responsibility that she will not join the ULFA, she will be released,” chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said on July 14.
Buragohain is a second-year undergraduate student at Jorhat’s DCB College. Earlier, the Golaghat District & Sessions Court had allowed her to appear for her semester examinations, which started on July 16.

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