A call to repeal, or at least to amend, the Armed Forces Special Act (AFSPA) has been repeated by quarters not-so-long-ago a part of India’s ruling establishment. It has termed the Act as an “obnoxious law” having no place in a “modern, civilised country.” These columns will not contest the noble sentiments of the call’s author, but only point out that as a civilisation, the country is also an ancient one, and that the law has been in force (rather in place) in Kashmir for nearly a quarter-of-a-century. And so far as “ancient” is concerned, Kashmir can rub shoulders with the proudest. It is the modernity part which seems to have become a problem, now being complicated by an obsessive harking back to pasts that exist only in the imagination.
It was only ten days ago that forces personnel emboldened by recurring immunity shot dead two young boys in the Chattargam area in central Kashmir when the situation the teenagers were perceived to have created could have been handled by non-lethal means. Just the other day, another youth was shot dead in firing on protests erupting in a Kulgam area after an encounter left two militants dead. And the same day, a gravely injured young man in his early twenties, died when his life could have been saved had forces personnel not acted in the most suspicious and questionable manner. When a group of civilians could manage to approach the injured man and divest him of the grenade that had somehow come to be tied to his body, how could a large number of trained forces personnel, encircling him at 80 to 100 meters, have been no better than helpless by-standers, particularly when he already had one of his hands blown off?
Three days after the Chattargam killings, the army had accepted responsibility for the incident, and promised a “thorough and transparent” probe of its own, which, it said, would be completed within ten days. Having committed itself publicly, the army must act on its word, and punish the personnel responsible for the fatal firing. The powers, and the lack of accountability, the forces enjoy under the AFSPA has taken a huge toll of human life in Kashmir. The army must acknowledge the fact, and desist from obdurate and unreasoned opposition to the Act’s repeal, or even suitable amendments. The Machil killings, and now the sentences, which, in fact, are only recommendations so far, are graphic evidence of how specious its case is.