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Saturday, 6 June 2015


Armed Forces (Assam- Manipur) Special Powers Act: An Overview (Part I)

        The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) is one of the most draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has passed. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to "maintain the public order".
The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of "aiding civil power." It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to the entire seven sister states[1] in the north- eastern region of India. The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel.[2]The Government of India gives justification for this Act that it will stop the seceding of North East states from the Indian Union.


Through the centuries, the Himalayan hills and valleys have bridged South, South East, and Central Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian sub-continent never extended east of the Bhramaputrariver.India's British colonizers were the first to break this barrier. In the early 19th century, they moved in to check the Burmese expansion into today's Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur King, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828.[3] Under this treaty, Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.
This undue interference eventually led to the bloody Anglo- Manipuri conflict of 1891.[4] The British reaffirmed their position but were cognizant of the ferocious spirit of independence of these people and did not administer directly but only through the King.
After the departure of the British, the Kingdom of Manipur was reconstituted as a constitutional monarchy on modern lines by passing the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947.[5]
Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949, Mr V P Menon, a senior representative of the Government of India, invited the King to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state at Shillong.[6] Upon his arrival, the King was allegedly forced to sign under duress the merger agreement. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur Legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were protests, but the carrot-and-stick policy[7] launched by the Indian Government successfully suppressed any opposition.
At the beginning of the century, the inhabitants of the Naga Hills, which extend across the Indo-Burmese border, came together under the single banner of Naga National Council (NNC)[8], aspiring for a common homeland and self-governance. As early as 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission, which was examining the feasibility of future of self-governance of India. The Naga leaders were adamantly against Indian rule over their people once the British pulled out of the region. Mahatma Gandhi publicly announced that the Nagas had every right to be independent. His assertion was based on his belief in non-violence, he did not believe in the use of force or an unwilling union.
Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Union or not.[9] However, shortly after the British withdrew, independent India proclaimed the Naga Territory as part and parcel of the new Republic.
The NNC proclaimed Nagaland's independence. In retaliation, Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. An armed struggle ensued and there were large casualties on either side. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is the product of this tension. 
In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in what is known as the Shillong Accord.[10] The Naga leaders who did not agree with the Shillong accord formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and continue to fight for what they call," Naga sovereignty".[11]
Much of this historical bloodshed could have been avoided if the new India had lived up to the democratic principles enshrined in its Constitution and respected the rights of the nationalities it had taken within its borders. But in the over-zealous efforts to integrate these people into the "national mainstream", based on the dominant Brahminical Aryan culture, much destruction has been done to the indigenous populations. 

On 22 May 1958, a mere 12 days after the Budget Session of Parliament was over, the Armed Forces (Assam-Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance was passed.[12] A bill was introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament that year. Amongst those who cautioned against giving such blanket powers to the Army included the then Deputy Chairman of the RajyaSabha, (Upper House of the Indian Parliament), Mr P N Sapru.[13] In a brief discussion that lasted for three hours in the LokSabha and for four hours in the RajyaSabha, Parliament approved the Armed Forces (Assam- Manipur) Special Powers Act with retrospective from 22 May 1958.[14]

Read Part II HERE

About the Author:

Sanya Darakhshan Kishwar is a third year BSc.LLB. student from Central University of South Bihar, Gaya. She is currently interning at For the Sake of Argument.She is passionate about books and loves to read case laws in her free time.

[1]They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the "seven sisters".
[2]Armed Forces Special Powers Act: A study in National Security tyranny, available at, last seen on 02/06/2015

[3]Treaty of Yandaboo, 24 February 1826,available at, last seen on 02/06/2015

[4]Supra 2
[6]Supra 2
[8]Naga National Council, available at, last seen on 02/06/2015
[9]Supra 2
[10]Shillong Accord of 1975 , available at, last seen on 02/06/2015
[11]Supra 2
[12]Armed Forces (Special Powers)Act,1958,available at,_1958, last seen on 02/06/2015
[13]Supra 2
[14]Supra 2


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