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Of AFSPA and Women in Kashmir: A Perspective

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Armed forced Special powers Act (1958) is indeed a draconian law given its ramifications in any conflict zone of India. Manipur’s Irom Sharmila was on a hunger strike for 16 long years but the state never respected the protest by her and ultimately Irom called off her strike on August 9,2016 and is planning to join mainstream politics to change the system.

She is being advised not to give up her hunger strike and even threatened by extremists of dire consequences. AFSPA has literally became a state agency of exploitation right from Kashmir to Manipur putting women at extreme risk of rape, molestation and even murder.

Tripura’s Manik Sarkar government’s decision on revoking AFSPA recently was much hailed in public and intellectual circles however, the ripple effect as expected was the fresh revival of the incessant demand for revocation of AF(JK)SPA in Jammu and Kashmir. While it was argued that the much hyped, much maligned and controversial law in Tripura was revoked through a consistent effort by the State government on the basis of decrease in militancy (violence) related incidents, it is now expected by masses in Kashmir that such a positive development should pave way for Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP coalition government to get the law repealed either fully or partially at least from the less or no vulnerable areas. For impact assessment the key questions that arise are how often AFSPA has been used by Armed Forces as a shield against violation of Human Rights and other aberrations, or is it the excessive politicization of the issue in the State by the mainstream as well as the separatist ideologies which keeps AFSPA tussle always fresh and benefits both and lastly why is it that people still view AFSPA through the prism of past and as a symbol of constant oppression? It will not be wrong to maintain that irrespective of the merits and demerits of AFSPA, the act has been highly politicized and therefore perceived as a draconian law. Perhaps the Centre and the Armed Forces have not done enough to explain the real essence of the act or the fact that despite the act in place, what measures have been adopted to ensure that there is no misuse of the act. Army time and again says that over 97% of the allegations made against them have turned out to be false and action has been taken against those who erred, however there has been no proactive effort to substantiate these claims and trust deficit and sustained enemy perception among masses have also played a disastrous role thereby sustaining confusion and distrust. Contrary to this, adding fuel to the fire, the Defence Ministry finds it proper to blatantly opine that the law is a must if army has to operate in the State. Partially due to the lack of communication and partially due to past acts of omission and commission or excessive politicization, tremendous trust deficit has been generated between the people and the security apparatus which should be addressed on priority. This perceptual difference particularly conflicting views on AFSPA negate all other people friendly efforts of the army undertaken to bridge the army civilian dichotomous. As peace permeates through the minds of the people, the demand for dividends of peace including scrapping of the law, even if partially, as yet another people friendly step, is increasing.

Mass Anger against AFSPA

People friendly voices also opine that AFSPA revocation should find space in Prime Minister’s promise of deliveringInsaniyat (humanity) and Jamhooriyat (democracy) in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. However, security experts maintain that before analyzing the arguments and counter arguments, it will be proper to take a look at the similar contemporary provisions existing in other countries besides ground realities where insurgency undoubtedly has come down and active militancy has declined considerably but the intensity of threats across the border and terror machine has remained constant. Having seen the provisions adopted by various countries for dealing with insurgency, it will be apt to analyze the views of Army on AFSPA and its repeal. Army somewhat seems to believe that AFSPA is neither as draconian as it has been made to look nor it has been used in the manner as it is projected. Any excesses that may have taken place in the past have been verified and actions against erring personnel have been taken as per the law of the land. However, for reasons of empowerment, morale and fear of excessive caution on part of the troops operating under life threatening conditions, such a provision is important. While forces believe that to check misuse of the powers bestowed on Armed Forces, there are do’s and don’ts, the Army Chief’s ten commandments and force ethos that various levels of headquarters have enforced and there is no question of any violations, however, in the chaos ridden valley violations have occurred in the past and innocents have suffered. Moreover, if army believes that it cannot and it should not operate without the enabling act, there would be a need to build a political consensus between the State and the Centre on the needs of today’s security situation. Two elements of the nation’s executive cannot have opposite views on such a crucial provision of the security domain. Even as Kashmir reaches the stage of conflict stabilization, fresh threats loom before it in the form of the effects of the turbulent situation in Afghanistan, the entry of the Islamic State and recruitment of local youth within Kashmir.

Therefore a general opinion is held that considering the magnitude of the perceived false allegations, it will be impossible to handle the cases without having serious implications on operational efficiency and morale. However, with the rising consciousness of human rights the very language of the law is considered offensive and treated by civilians as simply against human rights. Arguments about dwindling number of active militants and counter arguments about the uncertainty of turbulence continue to occupy the mind and media space of Kashmir, however without much clarity of thought and action but just a sea of perceptions.

AFSPA Tussle: Some Questions

Why was the law enacted is not difficult to answer. From 1989 onwards Kashmir witnessed law and order collapse and the circumstances in the State turned so grave that Army had to be called in which needed enabling legal provisions like AFSPA. The question of why is it considered draconian, simply citing certain acts of excesses and mishandlings by the Armed Forces justifies the label. The question of who does it suit to label it draconian, not only all those who like to whip up the emotions of the public for their vested interests, but those who suffered under its garb. Given the labels it clearly seems that AFSPA supporters have failed to portray the act correctly. The question also arises whether the Army and the Centre has lost the perception battle on AFSPA and If so, why? We know that the main protagonist in the perception battle is Army which is pitched against host of key players like mainstream political parties and the parallel ideologies but army should never take AFSPA revocation debate like an attack. The question also arises that can a fresh perception battle be undertaken on a different set of ideas? The supporters argue that it is rather an issue of information and awareness and not a perception battle but has become a perception battle today, rather a clash of egos. While sane minds understand excess of hue and cry on AFSPA as propaganda and politicization but they equally acknowledge the people’s suffering over past 26 years amid laws like AFSPA and PSA and therefore a fresh debate is needed on the subject. Also the pressing question arises that would a fresh legislation with less offensive language pass muster, along with a fresh label? I think Army must not be averse to any such move as it is true that AFSPA employs objectionable terminology. Also the question of the Supreme Court’s Do’s and Don’ts, the SOPs of the Army incorporated in 1994 and the Force Ethos of formations? Can they be used to dilute perceptions of the law being draconian? Possibly this is a direction that could lead to acceptance. The Do’s and Don’ts enunciated by the Army, the SOP’s for conduct of operations, the Rules of Engagement of the Army and various Force Ethos that are adopted need to be clearly explained to the people which is yet to be effectively done. The Army has been traditionally shy of media and therefore partially responsible for the lack of adequate knowledge of people about information which could be game changing.

The last question is how much has the situation changed from 1990 when it was first enacted? Is it sufficient to warrant removal of the law? The issues that need to be addressed at this juncture are not AFSPA but at societal level, radicalization especially of youth needs to be curbed. At political level, a lot including rehabilitation of ex/surrendered/released/retuned militants, development of opportunities, management of education, generation of more economic infrastructure, etc, must be addressed. At diplomatic level, India must use the diplomatic channels to force its hostile neighbor to shun terror as an instrument of foreign policy. Last but not the least, resolution of Kashmir issue as such is a must for lasting peace. The State Government needs to enhance the capabilities of the Police and allied security agencies to take on the Public Order challenges. The question remains that how many times has AFSPA issue been discussed in the Unified Headquarters Meetings or Corps Group Meetings?

On the legal front, it is believed that the law was enacted based on the definition of ‘disturbed’ , thus giving security forces a mandate and enabling powers to achieve the national security objectives. There is also a feeling that such an unneeded hue and cry is for political diatribes and such a message has gone across and needs to be corrected. However, given the fact that Kashmir has already suffered for decades together sustaining peace and public relief is far more vital than political rhetoric or AFSPA in itself. Therefore, the Centre and Army must adopt a pragmatic approach towards the necessity and possibility of revocation of AFSPA from the areas where it is no more needed. We must acknowledge that any Act of this nature cannot remain in force for ever and the fallouts of the prolonged continuation of the law on the society and even on the image of the Army. Constant army-civilian trust deficit in Kashmir needs to be abridged, and that will only happen if the concerns of the people are addressed and at the moment the AFSPA issue is perhaps the biggest. Simultaneously, the real concerns of the people relate to the PSA, due to which large number of youths has been subjected to arbitrary and prolonged detention, often without trial. The state government need to take a serious view of this and at the same time needs to pursue the issue of revocation of AFSPA seriously in collaboration with the army leadership and the Centre .Amnesty international recently recommended the scrapping of the law in its report titled, “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir” calling AFSPA as the primary facilitator of impunity and stated that it does not behove a democratic country like India to have such an act in any of its parts. The perception battle exists as AFSPA has not been portrayed correctly to the people perhaps not reflected well by the forces initially and with the result is has been assumed as draconian and needs a rethink. Notwithstanding the arguments and counter-arguments on revocation of AFSPA, there is surely a need to review the Act. Perhaps enacting a new law that takes into account the past experiences, mishandlings and issues of the Army as well as the Human Rights concerns of the people, is the need of the hour.

AFSPA AND Women in Kashmir

Women have been the victims of the draconian Act in the conflict ridden Kashmir valley. On February 23, 1991, many women were raped in Kunan-Poshpora, twin villages in Kupwara district of Kashmir by soldiers. There are scores of other instances where women in Kashmir or Manipur faced humiliation in the political conflict in terms of rape, sexual humiliation and sexual torture and even killing. From the rape and murder of Manipuri girl Thangjam Manorama to the double rape and murder of Asia-Neelofar in Shopian of Kashmir are testimony to the fact that AFSPA has affected women in the country. Such a law has added to the mass alienation to a greater extent as people feel it empowers the military who commit human rights abuse. AFSPA is the main reason of dichotomy between masses and military and has time and gain being questioned by people who think it is simply a license to kill, torture, arrest and rape.

Last Word

Keeping the fallouts of the prolonged continuation of the law in view, it has been time and again maintained that AFSPA in the state needs a rethink given its tenure, relevance, past human rights violations, mounting public anger, crisis mishandlings and aberrations and constant army-civilian trust deficit. Simultaneously it is being argued by masses and analysts that in case the uncertainty and chaos or violence returns, who can stop the Centre to reinstall the law again. While Home ministry seems considering reduction in possible deployment of central forces in North east states, it should not close its eyes on Kashmir and not just focus on development packages but be serious on the delivery of justice in the State.

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South Asia

Human Development Index 2021–22 and India

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The goal of the HDI is to provide a comprehensive assessment of a country’s development based on the individuals and their capabilities. The Human Development Index is a statistical measure that shows the average achievement in various key dimensions of human development. These include a long and healthy life, a good standard of living, and being knowledgeable. The three main dimensions of the HDI are health, education, and standard of living. The health dimension is based on the life expectancy at birth. The education dimension is calculated by the years of schooling that are expected for children entering school. The standard of living is computed by taking into account the country’s gross national income. The scores for these three dimensions are then computed and aggregated using a geometric mean.

The HDI can be used to analyze the various policy choices that governments make regarding human development. It can also help stimulate debate about the priorities of the government. Although the HDI provides a comprehensive view of human development, it does not take into account various factors such as poverty, human security, and inequality. The other composite indices that are used to measure human development, such as the Human Development Report, provide a more accurate and broader perspective.

India in HDI

The rapid growth of income, education, and life expectancy has become a major challenge for India. According to the Human Development Report 2021, which was released by the UNDP, the country’s global rankings have dropped from 130 in 2020 to 132 in 2021. This is not surprising since the growth in India’s Human Development Index has slowed down faster than that of the global index. In 2020, India’s HDI values had remained flat, but they fell significantly in 2021. This marked a sharp deterioration from the previous year, and it is expected to have a negative impact on the country’s medium and South Asian HDI economies. At the global level, the fall in the index was slightly less than in 2020, but it was still more than in the previous year.

The decline in the Human Development Index values in 2021 was mainly due to India’s poor performance. However, other regions such as East Asia and the Pacific and Europe and Central Asia showed some marginal growth. While the HDI values in Arab countries remained stable, they continued to fall in the Caribbean and Latin America.

India and its Trends in HDI

The positive trends in the HDI values were seen in different HDI groups in 2021. For instance, in very high and high human development countries, the trends improved significantly. However, in low human development countries, the trends remained negative. This was mainly due to the sharp decline in the growth of India’s HDI values.

Although the pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in India’s HDI values, it is also worrying that the country’s global rankings have dropped significantly. In 2015, the previous government of the National Democratic Alliance assumed office, and the country’s ranking decreased by one rung. During this period, the HDI rankings for China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates improved significantly. However, India’s efforts to improve its human development indicators are still lagging behind. This is because the country’s rapid growth has been overshadowed by other countries’ achievements.

A closer look at the data shows that the decline in India’s Human Development Index (HDI) growth has been continuous for more than a decade. From an annual average rate of 1.2% during the 1990s to 1.6% during the 2000s, the country’s growth rate has slowed down to 0.9% during the 2010–21 period. Its neighbors, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, and China, did better than India. During the period under review, the HDI values of these countries improved by 1.64%, 1.25%, and 0.97%, respectively. The continuous decline in the growth of India’s Human Development Index can be considered as a destabilising factor. For instance, the country’s life expectancy rate, which had been at an annual rate of 0.7% during the 1990s to the 2000s, has remained flat since 2010.

In the first two years following the outbreak of the pandemic, life expectancy in India fell by 1.1% and 4.2%. However, in neighboring Bangladesh, life expectancy started to recover and reached 0.6% in the second year. The decline in the average annual growth of schooling in the country has also been continuous for more than a decade. From 0.4% in the 1990s to 0.5% in the 2000s, the annual average growth of schooling in India has dropped to 0.4%. Despite the improvement in the mean years of schooling that occurred during the past couple of decades, the growth in this area has stagnated during the pandemic. This is a negative factor for the country’s long-term growth.

The decline in the growth rates of the per capita national income and gender development index has also been disappointing. After reaching an annual average of 3.6% during the 1990s, the growth rate of India’s per capita gross national income has slowed down to 4.3% during the 2010–21 period, which is considered a contributing factor to the country’s current economic slowdown. Even after the various factors that have affected the country’s long-term growth, the per capita income of Bangladesh has maintained its steady increase during the past couple of years. It has also been able to prevent the decline in the gender development index from happening much faster than India. This demonstrates Bangladesh’s ability to sustain its rapid growth. The continuous decline in the growth of India’s Human Development Index and the steady decline in its ranking are two important indicators that should be taken into account. It is clear that the country’s economic growth can no longer be sustainable if it does not include higher human development. This is because a critical level of development is required for sustainable growth.

It is no surprise that the decline in India’s HDI values has been linked to the country’s economic slowdown. As a result, it is important that the government of India takes immediate action to boost the country’s Human Development Index and accelerate its growth. This can be done through the establishment of innovative policies and the establishment of a virtuous cycle of accelerated human development.

Conclusion

Although it is not always accurate to compare the rankings of different countries, it is still important to note that the data collected from the Human Development Index can provide more accurate and timely reports. In terms of its human development, India has declined on three different parameters. One of these is its life expectancy, which has decreased from 69.7 to 67.2 years. On the other hand, the country’s education system has shown an increase in the number of years that students are expected to complete schooling, though the school closure caused a drop in the expected years of education. Finally, the standard of living has also gone down. Around 90 percent of the countries in the world are currently experiencing this decline due to various crises, such as the pandemic, climate change, and the war. Although the pandemic is a contributing factor to the decline in human development, it is also important to note that other factors such as the displacement of people due to climate change are affecting the country. The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has shown that the world is constantly experiencing a crisis that is unprecedented. Because of this, it is not possible for humans to effectively resolve these crises. Despite the progress that has been made in narrowing the gender gap, there are still many challenges that remain. One of these is the low number of women participating in the labor force. Although the government has already launched various initiatives aimed at addressing these issues, more needs to be done to improve the situation of women. One of the most important factors that can be considered when it comes to addressing the issue of inequality is the strengthening of the social protection schemes. This will allow the country to include more vulnerable groups in its development. Besides this, other factors such as the availability of healthy populations are also important to improve the country’s human development.

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The South Asian Triangle

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photo credit: UN

Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Jaishankar has been a particularly busy man for the last few days. Even by his own standards, the last few days have proved intense and hectic.

A passing glance at his schedule gives us a snapshot of the scope of India’s contemporary foreign policy. Tackling a whole host of multilateral, regional, trilateral and bilateral relationships in a span of ten days, he has signaled India’s dexterity to engage in diverse relationships and juggle multiple balls at the same time.

The key takeaways of the last few days have been reformed multilateralism at the UN, South-South cooperation within the CELAC, CARICOM and IBSA forum, rebalancing in the Indo-Pacific through the QUAD and regional trilaterals like the India-UAE-France, India-France-Australia and India-Australia-Indonesia.

Seen by some as an ineffective talk shop, the minister also didn’t shy away from the BRICS foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA and demonstrated New Delhi’s willingness to balance ostensible contradictions with a straight face.

The minister’s visit also allowed India to undertake an honest stocktaking of its bilateral partnership with Washington. The press conference with Secretary of State Blinken captures the plethora of domains which have witnessed vigorous cooperation between the two partners over the last few years.

However, like mature states covering for their own interests, some disagreements naturally surfaced between them. Primary disagreements were over New Delhi’s oil imports from Russia and Washington’s sustenance of F-16s to Pakistan for supposed counter-terrorism purposes.

At a community gathering, Minister Jaishankar, referring to restarting of the maintenance of the F-16S for counter-terrorism, nippily quipped that the US was “not fooling anybody by saying these things” and questioned the merits of the US-Pakistan relationship. When the Americans were asked about it, the US tried to give New Delhi a taste of its own medicine.

Experts believe that if New Delhi wishes to demonstrate “strategic autonomy” by engaging multiple sides and maintain friends in all camps by engaging the QUAD, SCO and Russia at the same time, others might also seek to do the same. After all, whether one likes it or not, interests trump values.

It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto also happens to be visiting Washington at the same time as his Indian counterpart. An urgent change in US-Pakistan ties is an important prospect from Rawalpindi’s point of view. In the short-medium term, Pakistan urgently seeks western assistance for rehabilitation due to the havoc caused by the recent floods. It also seeks to mend its crumbling economy when usual creditors like Beijing seem wary of lending.

Washington, perhaps, still feels that Pakistan’s geography doesn’t allow it to remain immaterial in its own strategic calculus. Pakistan shares close geographical proximity, and land borders in some cases, with Afghanistan, Iran, China and India. Washington also thinks that Pakistan could provide help in stabilizing Afghanistan while it remains preoccupied with Ukraine and China.

Coming back to US-India relations, some analysts believe that the bilateral relationship, despite all its progress over the last two decades, was witnessing signs of stress. They see minister Jaishankar’s visit as primarily aimed for damage control and corrective dialogue.

All said and done, the India-US partnership still remains one of the most consequential relationships of the century and holds immense potential in ensuring stability at a time when the global order is under a tumultuous flux.

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BJP’s ‘Akhand Bharat’ Dream is Not Only Problematic, Fascist Also

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Image source: burningcompass.com

On 7th September, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma made a very controversial remark about ‘integrating Bangladesh and Pakistan’. Minister Sarma tried to counter Congress’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and remarked that “India is united. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Silchar to Saurashtra, we are one. Congress partitioned the country into India and Pakistan. Then Bangladesh was created. If Rahul Gandhi feels apologetic that my maternal grandfather [Jawaharlal Nehru] made mistakes, if he regrets it, then no point of ‘Bharat Jodo’ in Indian territory. Try to integrate Pakistan, Bangladesh and strive to create Akhand Bharat.” Minister Sarma made the remark at a time when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina was officially visiting India, hence present in India.

Though it may seem that the BJP leader was trying to ‘tease’ Congress, his rhetoric is a part of BJP’s controversial ‘Akhand Bharat’ concept- a concept of unified India that covers whole South Asia and Myanmar. The concept is therefore quite alarming for the sovereignty of all other South Asian states.

‘Akhand Bharat’ is a concept associated with Hindutva ideology. The concept cherishes for a mythological India that dates back to state formation and pre-partition era. The concept takes ‘Hindu hegemony’ as granted. Hence, the majoritarian concept is supported by right-wing Hindu nationalist parties of India such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Shiv Sena, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) etc.

In the contemporary world, Akhand Bharat has a contrasting relation with Westphalian order. It tries to override the concept of sovereignty based on ‘so-called’ historical claim and calls for physical expansion- a fascist method to increase land boundary. Even though the concept was considered as radical in its early days, the prolonging BJP rule in the last decade has made it mainstream through like-minded media coverages.

While many cherishes this united India dream, the concept also faces ‘backlash’ from the progressive quarter of India. Unfortunately, the growing majoritarian trend since last decade in ‘World Largest Democracy’ is resulting in wider acceptance of the concept within India as BJP’s public support is skyrocketing. The promoters Hindutva is using India’s democratic culture and manipulating large population to achieve their dream. Assam CM’s latest remark mentioned in the beginning of the article while the PM of the particular country is present, also shows how mainstream the concept has become.

However, this fascist concept and Hindutva ideology is bringing adverse impact for India both internally and externally.  Internally, it is contributing in the growth of right-wing politics in India. The radical interpretation of Hindu Supremacy is also dividing the population of India creating a ‘Us vs. Them’ narrative which is detrimental to India’s federation also. For instance, when the BJP government scrapped Article 370 for Kashmir revoking its semi-autonomy, the right-wing parties were quick to acknowledge it as a part of building Akhand Bharat. In the same way, when former Pakistani Cricketer Danish Keneria expressed his desire to visit ‘controversial’ Ram Mandir(Temple) in Ayoddhya, the temple trust’s chief also used the concept saying that “Pakistan is a part of Akhand Bharat and Hindus living there are our brothers. If he (Kaneria) wants to visit Ram Mandir and offer prayers, then he is most welcome,”

As India is a federal union among total 36 states and union entities, the Hindu Majoritarianism poses threat to its social harmony and makes other religions minority. It also poses a threat to its social harmony by fueling hate-speech, Islamophobia and misinformation- popularly known as ‘WhatsApp University’.

Externally, the concept creates fear over sovereignty for other states included in Akhand Bharat map. There is always a fear in the back of the mind that India may have a ‘Kautilya-like’ long-term strategy to annex them. The annexation of Sikkim serves as an example for their fear, even if the case may be different. It is also a disrespect to the idea of sovereignty and self-determination for most small South Asian states. The Spillover effect of growing hate-speech and Islamophobia in India also adversely affects South Asia’s communal harmonies.

Again, this fascist concept also keeps a fear of physical expansion alive in South Asia- an overall peaceful region. The concept is also problematic for small South Asian states who tries to maintain a warm and balancing relation with India for their strategic calculation.

However, the fear is also not irrational considering BJP leaders’ so-called master-plan. Last year, Tripura’s CM and BJP leader Biplab Deb created a controversy by revealing that BJP has plan to expand its footprint by establishing government in Nepal and Sri-Lanka.  Such ‘expansionist dream’ is also contradicting to existing wisdom of international relations and law.

In conclusion, India is not only the world’s largest democracy but also has the role of ‘Powerhouse’ in South Asia. It’s ruling party’s such expansionist dream is a symptom of fascism and is only comparable to Mussolini’s great Roman empire and Hitler’s Lebensraum. Hence, the growing fear of physical expansion is rational. Therefore, Akhand Bharat and related speeches by top right-wing leaders are not only problematic, fascist also.

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