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Irom Chanu Sharmila: The Iron lady of Manipur

Irom Chanu Sharmila is fasting since 16 years against AFSPA

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Irom Chanu Sharmila, Wikimedia Commons

By Pashchiema Bhatia

When Anna Hazare began his hunger strike, he became the centre of media attention and everybody was concerned about his life. He stimulated the whole nation to support his cause. A 42 year old lady of Manipur who is fasting since 2 November, 2000, is demanding to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Irom Sharmila, the Iron lady of Manipur, who has not drunk a single drop of water since November, 2000, never got the media coverage to this extent. Is she not a human? Then why nobody is concerned about her life? May be because she belongs to north-east, the part of India about which nobody is concerned.

AFSPA, 1958

Under this act, all the army men are provided with unrestrained powers to arrest or to shoot or to kill anyone just on the basis of mere suspicion that the person is acting against the state or might be linked to some terrorists groups. This act is applicable to the seven sister states of north-east (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) which has suffered insurgency, tribal-warfare including terrorism. A similar act is imposed in Jammu and Kashmir.

I respect the army men and I am obliged that they suffer for the purpose of our security. Officers deployed in Siachen suffer a lot but still they work.  But giving unrestrained powers to them is problematic.

Irom Chanu Shramila grew up in Manipur. She is a civil rights as well as political activist. She began a hunger strike on November, 2000, after the Malom Massacre, when 10 civilian were shot allegedly by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state.  Later the encounters were alleged to be fake and Manipur High Court ordered 5 lakhs compensation for each of the families of the 10 people who were killed. Irom said, “I was shocked to see the dead bodies. There was no means to stop further violations by the armed forces. Fast is the most effective way because it is based on a spiritual fight. My fast is on behalf of the people of Manipur. This is not a personal battle, it is symbolic. It is a symbol of truth, love and peace”. Irom has been forcibly kept alive by nasogastric tubation. She had been arrested several times on the charges of ‘attempt to suicide’ but since the maximum sentence cannot exceed one year she is released by the court after the completion of one year and is re-arrested on the same charges within 2-3 days of her release. Police justifies this by saying that they are concerned about her and they cannot see her die but arresting and re-arresting has been the only concern of the authorities.

On July 2004, Thangjam Manorama, a Manipuri woman was picked up from her home by Indian paramilitary unit on some uncertain allegations of being associated with People’s Liberation Army. Next day, her dead body was found and the post-mortem report revealed that she was raped. After the Nirbhaya case, the whole nation was criticising the culprits but the brutal rape case of Thangjam Manorama came to light only after the protests of Manipuri women standing naked in front of Assam Rifles Headquarters with banners proclaiming, ‘Come Indian Army, Rape Us’. Watch this video: @youtube video on protests in Manipur

When AFSPA was imposed, it was supposed to be a temporary law but now it’s been 60 years, it still persists. The aim of AFSPA was to bring normalcy but now it appears that AFSPA has changed the definition of normalcy. There are several cases of mysterious disappearances of people, fake encounters and rapes which are reported. I believe that if we want to know the relevance of an act we must inquire into the improvements which it has brought in. When AFSPA was imposed there were two insurgent groups and now there are at least 40 insurgent groups. Instead of being a solution it has probably encouraged more people to take up arms. The army won’t oppose it as it provides unrestrained powers to them and thinking about the State government, AFSPA attracts funds from the Centre. It’s an escape route for the Centre to hide administrative failures in these areas.

I agree that some relevant police force must be there to tackle the insurgency but there should be some control over the uncontrolled powers given to the army. The government must ensure that no one is misusing the powers. Either a new act should replace AFSPA and come into being or it should be revoked because it is violating the human rights.

In the era of rising intolerance, it is Irom Sharmila who still has faith in peace and democracy. She says that she wants to eat rice from her mother’s hand after the withdrawal of AFSPA. She is a living legend of non-violence and history will remember her.

Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram and a student of journalism and mass communication in New Delhi. Twitter: @pashchiema5

  • Akanksha Sharma

    This is really sad, I never knew this side of AFSPA. Government should take action against it.

    • Pashchiema Bhatia

      Hardly anyone knows.. Acc to a survey, more than 80% of the north-easterns face some sort of discrimination in Metropolitan cities.. They are beaten up and humiliated. When Indian students were facing discrimination in Australia then all Indians were criticising but when Indians are beaten up in India then our Indian media is busy in covering bollywood stuff..

  • Akanksha Sharma

    This is really sad, I didn’t know this side of AFSPA

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  • Akanksha Sharma

    This is really sad, I never knew this side of AFSPA. Government should take action against it.

    • Pashchiema Bhatia

      Hardly anyone knows.. Acc to a survey, more than 80% of the north-easterns face some sort of discrimination in Metropolitan cities.. They are beaten up and humiliated. When Indian students were facing discrimination in Australia then all Indians were criticising but when Indians are beaten up in India then our Indian media is busy in covering bollywood stuff..

  • Akanksha Sharma

    This is really sad, I didn’t know this side of AFSPA

Next Story

  Cloak And Dagger: Indo-Bangla Ties

Irrespective of who wins at the ballot, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority is persecuted by the losing side, as if it was their fault.

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed

 By:  Tania Bhattacharya           

 

Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya

Twenty-first of February is an important annual date for the peoples of both, Bangladesh, and West Bengal. On that day in nineteen fifty two, students of East Pakistan’s institutions of knowledge like Dhaka Medical College, had been mercilessly struck down, after they were fired upon by the soldiers of West Pakistan. Their crime? Bangla, the indigenous mother-tongue of all Bengalis, irrespective of religion and location, had been the prime focus of East Pakistan’s ‘Language Movement’. The seat of power, despite the East’s relatively larger demographic, had been, for all means and purposes, firmly lodged in the West, separated from the Eastern wing, by thousands of miles of territory belonging to the state of independent India. West Pakistan wielded absolute power over Pakistan’s army, its internal security, administration and the judicial system. Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi, were the most recognized and respected lingua franca. Bengali was deemed by the West, to be a ‘Pagan’ language, the tongue of millions of ‘kaffirs’ that worshipped a plenitude of deities.

 

 

indo-bangla
Ansal-al-Islam supporters demand the death of Atheist bloggers.

The Bengalis, a people deeply protective of their cultural heritage, cutting across religious lines, took offense, and thus commenced the movement for the restoration of Bangla, as the legitimate representative of the East Bengalis. What followed, is well known, to South Asian History, enthusiasts. Exploiting the opportunity that had presented itself, and asphyxiated by more than ten million Bengali refugees who had migrated to eastern India in wake of ‘Operation Searchlight’ imposed by West Pakistan on its eastern wing, India had invaded the latter in the early December of 1971. The shortest war of modern history, had ended a fortnight later, with the emergence of an independent homeland, for all Bengali speaking peoples: Bangladesh.

Assam
An Indian publication reporting the Nellie Massacre of Assam.

Bangladesh turns forty-seven on the twenty sixth of March this year. Over the last nearly five decades, much water has flown under the bridge. Significantly, it has taken along with it, a bulk of the initial bonhomie and camaraderie, that Bangladesh and India shared with one another. From trustworthy allies, the two neighbours, have now entered a phase of grudging respect, but that too is often found in suspended animation, once anti-Indian regimes come to power in the other country. There are a number of reasons why India and Bangladesh have experienced a souring of relations over time, and much to the ordinary Indian’s chagrin, not all of the blame can be laid at our eastern neighbour’s door.

Pakistan
The 1971 surrender of West Pakistan.

BANGLADESHI CONCERNS

 

  1. A) WHAT’S IN A PICTURE? EVERYTHING!

Any patriotic Indian, often ruminates fondly over a well circulated photo that emerged in the December of 1971. It was taken during the capitulation of the West Pakistan army to India. The photo is held up by Indian nationalists, like a trophy and proudly referred to as the ultimate symbol of India’s crushing of Pakistan. This historic photo in question, has a sombre Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora, looking on, as a visibly demoralized Gen. A.A.K. Niazi of Pakistan signs the document of surrender. A sea of khaki and army green dot the backdrop of the image. Smiling soldiers of the Indian Defence Forces, can be seen interspersed between high ranking members of the Pakistan Army. However, remarkably, missing from the image, is the presence of the very people, who had had to sacrifice their life, their limb, and their precious dignity, to make their own independence happen.

Indira Gandhi
Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujib with Indira Gandhi. The two shared a close friendship.

As time has passed, millions of Bangladeshis have taken stock of the historic footage that seemed to signal their freedom day, and yet, they have asked: “Where are our people?” Yes, indeed. It is a photograph that, once the euphoria had died down, was bound to reveal its troubling nature. It may have been the defining moment for our own military men, but for the patriots within our newly born neighbour, this image is one of being slighted; of being overlooked, and insulted. Indians should have realized awhile back, that parading the said photo, was not a wise thing to do. The newly liberated nation, did not and to this day, cannot claim the image as their own, due to the complete absence of any East Bengali presence.

 

  1. B) WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK!
protests
Bangladeshi atheists and freethinkers protest the murder of their own.

In 1996, Bangladesh and India had signed a treaty over the sharing of river waters. The agreement – known as the Ganges Treaty – had promised to equally divide the volume of river waters shared by the two nations. Waters of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna mega-basin, constitute the globe’s second largest hydraulic region, with a high population density inhabiting its banks. Simply put, the so-called division of water, is neither fair, and nor useful, to Bangladeshis. Through the Farakka Barrage, India, with its advanced systems of harvesting trans-boundary water, virtually controls the upstream flow of currents, which it then utilises without a care for the consequences being experienced by the people that live around the downstream currents of the barrage. As a result, Bangladesh has become a victim of environmental degradation which is a direct consequence of India’s water harvesting policy and techniques. Flora and Fauna, especially a variety of edible fish, important to our eastern neighbour, have either drastically lessened, or come close to extinction, due to callous and selfish, Indian interests over river-water sharing.

police
A troublesome photo.

INDIAN CONCERNS

 

  1. A) THREE IS A CROWD!
assam

Illegal immigration into Assam from Bangladesh has created Distrust and concern among the locals.

A fundamental problem that posited itself even before the Liberation War in East Pakistan was over, and should have been a dark indicator of what was to come, was the deluge of refugees that had escaped the porous Indo-Pak border at its eastern end, and come to stay in India, as hopeful citizens. Even though Bangladesh is itself a witness to a refugee apocalypse in the form of the Rohingyas, they do not seem to be able to join the dots between their own problem, and that of India’s, for which their homegrown, poverty-stricken population is responsible. The Indian state which has borne the brunt of our refugee crisis, has been the north-easterly one of Assam. Bordering Bangladesh, this volatile Indian region has had to absorb the vast majority of illegals that continually transgress into our territories, by paying a small bribe to the jawans of the BSF (Border Security Forces), and obtaining false ration and identity cards. Bangladesh has chosen to delude itself by claiming time and again, that the alleged social scenario is an impossibility, accusing India instead, of tainting Indo-Bangla ties with our calumnies against them. In a heart-breaking tragedy that unfolded in the Nellie town of Assam in 1983, thousands of Muslims were slain by the local Assamese, over fear of the former’s illegal alien status.

water
Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal do not see eye to eye over river water issues.

It must be acknowledged, that though a sizeable proportion of the deaths were of Indian Muslims who were unfortunately caught in the crosshairs; the remaining victims were indeed of Bangladeshi descent. The crisis could have been averted, if a national population census board had been specifically set up for the beleaguered Assam state, decades previously. But illegals from Bangladesh have been known to wade deeper into Indian territory, in hopes of a better life, and confirmed sources have located many such uprooted families living in the shanty dwellings of even megalopolises like Mumbai, which lie on the far-off western shores of India. If left unchecked, the Bangladeshi Illegal Aliens crisis, may snowball into a far greater threat than it is today. Given the pull of money, such individuals and indeed, families, may be willing to join insurgency operations that are threatening the fabric of unity that holds this country together.

 

SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY!