Recent debates in the media on the law and order problem in North East, as also the validity of Armed Forces Special Power Act, had raised interest among the general public as well as human right activists. From the points raised, there appears to be lack of understanding of the North East.

Firstly, it must be clearly understood that North East comprises of eight states i.e. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura & Sikkim. If one was to analyse the law and order / insurgency problems in these states it would emerge that the insurgency is only on in parts of Manipur, parts of Assam. As regards Nagaland, as of today, there is no active insurgency since the cease-fire has been agreed to by NSCN (I&M Group). However, off and on some sporadic clashes between the two rival factions of Nagas i.e. NSCN (I&M) Vs NSCN (K) do take place. This is primarily because of the ongoing peace talks between the Government of India and NSCN (I&M Group). Obviously, the other group is trying to make their presence felt and does not want to be left out of the whole peace process. As regards Arunachal Pradesh, there is no insurgency in the state; however sporadic incidents do take place, when the ULFA of Assam on being chased by security forces cross over to the areas of Arunachal bordering with Assam. Sikkim and Mizoram are totally peaceful. As regards Meghalaya, there is no active insurgency in the state, a few bunds on inter-tribal demands do take place some time. However, these are very much part of our democratic process. As regards Tripura, it did have insurgency earlier; however today, the insurgent groups have been fully contained and the state enjoys a peaceful environment.

    It will be seen from above that it is very unfair to bracket all these North Eastern states as disturbed areas. This only proves lack of understanding of complex problems of the North Eastern region. It must be understood that no two states of North East are similar. In fact, each state has its own set of problems. They have been grouped as North Eastern region on geographical convenience only.

    As regards the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), it is really surprising that the people have been talking of this Act being applicable in whole of North East. Nothing could be more untruthful and damaging than this. AFSPA is only applicable in parts of Manipur, parts of Assam & Nagaland. It is not applicable to other states of North Eastern Region. Secondly, it must be understood as to how this Act came into force. When the law and order problem in certain part of the counrty deteriorated and the situation went out of control of normal law enforcing agencies, the Army had to be called out. It was felt by the Central Government that to tackle such special situations, special powers were required. The Parliament of the country passed the Armed Forces Special Pomer Act 1958. This Act is only made applicable to an area or a state after due concurrence of state, and that too for a specific duration. Unfortunately, in certain parts of the country the situation has continued to remain critical from law and order point of view and hence, the Act has got extended from time to time.

    The other fallacy about the Act is that the Armed Forces are using it indiscriminately. If it was so, there would have been a total revolt against such forces. What must be understood that in an ongoing conflict, there may be stray incidents where on the spur of the moment, more than justifiable force may appear to have been used. Unfortunately, such incidents get over-played. In fact, some units who have done a number of good works in the same area are never highlighted and one bad incident is over-played to portray the Armed Forces as villain. More often than not, such reporting is one-sided followed by a trial, where media beomes judges and juries. It also suits our national psyche where we enjoy and give more importance to such a 'masala' news. The race between our multiple channels to 'break news' first also makes the factual story the first casualties. It must also be understood that it is not the Armed Forces who have gone there on their own. The situation has been handed over to them by the state administration when the situation has gone out of their control.

    It is also a fallacy that Armed Forces personnel are seldom punished for such excesses. The strength of the Armed Forces is in its discipline. Each action is investigated and any violation of rules is swiftly punished within a few months. One would like to ask as to which other organisation in our country is taking such prompt action. We have incidents where criminals roam around freely and in some cases it takes years to bring culprits to trial.

    Nothwithstanding the above, there is a definite need to modify a few clauses of Armed Forces Special Power Act, which is already under review at the Government of India level.

    Finally, let us not continue to make adverse comments on the North East as a whole. We are part of the Indian nation and we do have our much lesser share of violence as compared to the rest of the country. Some of our states are an 'Island of Peace'. We do hope this phenomena will spread to our other sister states soon.

    Similarly, we must understand that today the Indian Armed Forces belong to India and are manned by Indian citizens, who very well understand the value of peace. Their primary task is to defend the country from external aggression. Unfortunately, because of the inability of normal law enforcing agency to maintain peace in their area, the Government as a last resort hand over the situation to them. They are not there on their own. In fact, they would prefer to concentrate on their primary role of defending the nation from external aggression. Our attitude to use them as a whipping boy on the slightest pretext is contributing to frustration. Let us be fair to all. Condemn wrong acts; also give credit to good work. Avoid one-sided story.

    Remember law and order and insurgencies are national problems and they require national support to be fought. Let us all contribute our bit to fight these and make our country a peaceful and developed one for others to envy.