The Big Story: Bad Act

The Centre on Monday decided to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act totally from Meghalaya and from eight out of 16 police stations in Arunachal Pradesh, more than a quarter century after it was first extended to those two states. The decision, meant to reflect the drop in levels of violence and presence of insurgency in the two states, is a welcome development. AFSPA, as the act is known, gives special powers and immunity to armed forces in areas that had been declared as “disturbed”. It remains in force in a number of states in the North East, as well as in Jammu and Kashmir and is frequently the target of ire from locals and human rights activists who point out that it enables abuses by those in the armed forces.

The decision in Meghalaya and Arunachal comes three years after Tripura also saw the act lifted from that state after 18 years. It remains in force in the entirety of Assam and Nagaland, most of Manipur, and in the remaining eight police stations of Arunachal Pradesh. But if the Tripura and Meghalaya examples are anything to go by, there should be hope that the act can eventually be withdrawn across even more of the region.

Insurgency in the North East in general has been dropping steadily from its peak around two decades ago. According to the Times of India, insurgency incidents dropped from 1963 in 2000 to 308 in 2017. The number of civilians killed also dropped from 907 in 2000 to 37 last year, with a commensurate drop in security forces casualties as well.

Assessments by the South Asia Terrorism Portal tend to reflect this, pointing to “relative peace” in Manipur, where 2017 saw the second-lowest fatalities of forces since 1992; a “remarkable consolidation of peace” in Assam where insurgency levels have fallen to their “lowest since the commencement of troubles in the region”, and indications that peace talks in Nagaland have progressed to the extent that a “lasting peace” is within sight.

The Tripura example is in some ways most instructive. That state chose to withdraw AFSPA by putting more weight behind a counter-insurgency led by the police. This has, in some places, led to abuses by the police on the lines of the criticism that had earlier been levelled at the armed forces, which is problematic. At the same time, police forces are usually drawn from locals and, moreover, are accountable to the civilian government of the state, a structure that is much more likely to act as a check on the excesses of the forces.

The withdrawal of AFSPA then, is a two-fold victory: From the security forces side it indicates that insurgency levels have indeed dropped tremendously. And from the view of the locals, it reflects the revocation of a law that has been called draconian. The Centre as well as other states in the region should make every effort to extend this approach to the rest of the region as well.


  1. “Since [2006], Bangladesh’s annual GDP growth has exceeded Pakistan’s by roughly 2.5 percentage points per year. And this year, its growth rate is likely to surpass India’s,” writes Kaushik Basu for Project Syndicate, going on to examine what is behind this growth.
  2. “[Modi] is now part of the very elite that he railed against and his demeanour and clothes reflect this. His speeches sound less of an energetic, hopeful and a populist insurgent, but more of a tired paternalist leader telling people what they should and shouldn’t do,” write Harsh Shah, Rahul Verma and Pradeep Chhibber in the Hindu.
  3. Jayshree Sengupta in the Tribune writes on how the public idea of farmers never includes women, even though more and more of them are now heads of farming households.
  4. “The focus of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India and the government must shift from tinkering with the law to building proper infrastructure in NCLT and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) and changing the mindset of the stakeholders in the IBC process,” writes Bomi Daruwalla in Mint.
  5. A politics based on democratic welfarism could offer a political alternative, writes Kancha Ilaiah Shephard in the Indian Express. The Bahujan Left Front in Telangana comprising communists and Ambedkarites may show the way.


Don’t miss

Archana Nathan reports on how women in Karnataka, Often assaulted by the alcoholic men in their families, are leading a movement demanding a ban on liquor across the state.

As the sun climbed the sky, an autorickshaw full of women wobbled into the stadium, carrying the day’s contingent of protestors. The women quickly took a spot under the tent and started shouting slogans. “We don’t want country liquor, we want education,” they changed. “If the anger of women boils over, brandy shops will be broken into pieces.”

Each day, four or five villages in the region send a bunch of women to represent them at the protest. This rotational strategy keeps the agitation alive, even as it ensures that participants do not have to stop their work at home for the entire duration of the protest.

“Please stop the sale of liquor!” urged Mariamma, a woman from Aravali village on the outskirts of Raichur. “I have borne the brunt of alcoholism in my house after my husband took to drinking. We would have nothing to eat. I have had to go to the field to find work to keep my children alive. Even now, as we speak, he is lying there at home drunk out of his mind.”