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Irom Chanu Sharmila: The Iron lady of Manipur

Irom Chanu Sharmila is fasting since 16 years against AFSPA

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

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