Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland have seen a significant decrease in the number of “disturbed areas,” and a review of the designation in 2023 will be an incremental step toward removing the label and making it irrelevant. This will allow the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), a lawless law that allows the armed forces and central police to search and arrest without warrant and shoot on suspicion for “maintaining public order,” to be put into effect. One district in Nagaland was no longer classified as a “disturbed area” this year.
Eight of Nagaland’s sixteen districts (including Dimapur) are now fully subject to Afspa, while a further five are subject to it in some form. Tripura repealed Afspa in 2015, and Meghalaya removed it in 2018 after 27 years. Both of these states recently held state elections. Afspa was completely or partially withdrawn from 23 of Assam’s 36 districts last year by the Central Government.
When the Government of India (GoI) has been successful in convincing terrorists to surrender, join peace talks, and lay down their arms, any action taken to repeal Afspa is to be applauded. The underlying reasons of insurgencies were partially addressed by the Bodo Accord of 2020 and the Karbi-Anglong agreement of 2021.
Notwithstanding the justification that a special law was necessary due to the devastating militancy, the entire North-East has suffered under Afspa’s shadow. A instance of mistaken identity led to the deaths of 14 civilians in 2021 in the Mon area of Nagaland, according to the inquiry into the incident.
The current context is more receptive to a complete dismantling of Afspa because governments in all northeastern states are now aligned with the Centre. There is still work to be done before the North-East is free of this harsh rule, as evidenced by the addition of a district in Arunachal Pradesh to the Afspa list in 2023 and the partial repeal in Nagaland.