Home > Law and governance, Politics > The army and the people

The army and the people

With so many deaths in the news every day, from Kashmir to West Bengal and from Manipur to Chattisgarh, one has got to wonder how badly wrong the policies of the government must be. We are suppose to be a democracy, a nation governed by the people. If the people keep dying in large numbers, the process of governance is clearly not working as it should.

One major source of failure in my opinion is the government’s policy of using an ever increasing amount of force, lethal force, in every situation wherever there is an armed response to the government. That escalates what might have been a mere law and order problem to a civil war, and elevates armed protesters to armed insurgents. India is not special in this, the same sort of response is emanating from every government in the world, sometimes not even in their own countries.

One way of keeping the government’s response in check is to apply the government’s own laws to its own armed forces. For India, the relevant law, the truly draconian one, is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Wherever it is in force, like in Manipur, it essentially puts the armed forces above the law. So if the armed forces kill someone, they can walk away scot free. Of course, in some places, like West Bengal, the police do that anyway, but they are not as competent as some other sections of the armed forces.

Pratik Kanjilal has suggested that a particular clause of this law (or rather its predecessor from the British days) be brought back, one that requires all uses of lethal force be authorized in writing. I think this is a very good suggestion, one that the courts should force upon the government. But I also do not see our courts doing that in a foreseeable future, as our judges do not seem too keen to take the side of the `little guy’ — Bhopal being a case in point.

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