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Violent tactics in governance would never solve any serious social problem: Irom Sharmila on Manipur attacks



New Delhi: Manipur human rights activist Irom Sharmila on Saturday alleged that bureaucrats in the northeastern states were “misutilising” the money sent by the central government for counter-insurgency operations.

Sharmila, 43, said this  after a hearing at Patiala House courts. She is under judicial custody after being re-arrested on January 24, a day after she was released by the Imphal East district court.

The anti-AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) activist has been on hunger strike for 15 years demanding its repeal. The act gives sweeping powers to the armed forces fighting militants.

“In Manipur and the other northeastern states, every bureaucrat and power holder is getting benefits from the money, in crores, sent by the centre in the name of counter-insurgency. They are misutilising it and using it for profit earning,” Sharmila said in an interview.

Citing the recent attack on the Indian Army in Manipur on June 4 that left 18 soldiers dead, Sharmila said that “violent tactics in governance” would never solve any serious social problem.

It was one of the worst attacks on the army in years.

“Militant attacks of the lunatic kind can never be appreciated. However, such attacks can be stopped only if AFSPA is repealed,” she said.

“If they remove all these overcrowded/excessive army (personnel) from Manipur, there will be no target of the attacks. Attacking any plan based on counter-insurgency is the inevitable tactics of armed revolutionaries. I think you know, violent tactics as a means for any cause will never solve the problem for it’s tit for tat,” she said.

Sharmila said that if AFSPA was removed from the northeastern states, hefty sanctions of money from New Delhi would automatically stop and “such bureaucratic malpractices would cease”.

Sharmila was in Delhi to attend court proceeding on her alleged attempt to suicide case registered during her fast-unto-death here in 2006.

Emphasising that AFSPA was the only reason the entire northeastern region was on the boil, Sharmila said: “Only if the central government removes all the armies from Manipur and the other states affected by the AFSPA will the region see peace.”

Appreciating the efforts made by Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar to get AFSPA repealed from his state, Sharmila said: “The CM of Tripura is very bold and devoted for the welfare of his subjects without selfish motive. I think this is a sign of a superb quality of leadership.”

AFSPA was repealed from Tripura on May 27 after being in force for 18 years.

Sharmila has been fasting since November 5, 2000, a couple of days after an Assam Rifles personnel gunned down 10 civilians, including a National Child Bravery Award winner, near a bus stand in Malom village on the Imphal-Aizawl highway. (IANS)

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Meet Kelly Oliveira, Brazilian By Birth But ‘American’ By Heart

Embarking on a 'new journey'

Kelly Oliveira reacts after becoming a U.S. Citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland.
Kelly Oliveira reacts after becoming a U.S. Citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland. VOA

When Brazilian native Kelly Oliveira signed up for the U.S. Army through a program that offered her citizenship for her service, she thought she had it made.

But it took two years for the army to work through the added background checks. During that time she struggled to remain legal.

Oliveira finally made it through the process and was sworn in as a citizen last week.

She took the oath on a day designated to honor the U.S. flag, a group of 28 people from 18 countries became American citizens at the historic house where the flag that inspired the national anthem was made.

“I learned to love this country that I adopted as my own. … I’ve always [thought] of myself as an American by heart,” she said.

But it took 13 years to make it official. On a day designated to honor the U.S. flag, a group of 28 people, including Oliveira, from 18 countries became American citizens at the historic house where the flag that inspired the national anthem was made.

“It’s been a long journey. … Of course there were moments that I was thinking ‘Should I continue waiting?’” she said.

Oliveira’s wait was due to changes in a military program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI reported on by VOAlast December. It was launched in 2009 to bring immigrants with medical or language skills into the armed services.

Kelly Oliveira examines paperwork before her naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland.
Kelly Oliveira examines paperwork before her naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland. VOA

She enlisted in the Army in March 2016 under MAVNI, which promised her citizenship in exchange for service.

Enlisting for status

Oliveira had tried other ways to stay legal. But nothing worked.

“I went to school and I had my OPT, and I got a teaching position job as a preschool teacher,” Oliveira said.

The OPT or Optional Practical Training allows international students with an F-1 visa to work in the U.S. for up to one year in a field related to their studies. She tried to get a work visa through the schools where she was employed at the time.

“Unfortunately the school where I was working at; they could not [sponsor] me,” she said.

That’s when she entered the MAVNI program. But on June 2016, the program was shut down, which affected Oliveira’s enlistment.

The U.S. government retroactively required background checks on anyone who had enlisted in the military through the MAVNI program, including anyone who was currently serving or waiting to be shipped to basic training.

For Oliveira that meant a two-year wait. She went to training drills and struggled to stay legal.

Those who witnessed her journey said it was tough. “I don’t think I’d be able to do it because it’s, I mean, it’s been a, it’s been a long journey. It’s been a struggle and it’s, it’s been like a nightmare,” Lauren Schroeder, a D.C. native who has been friends with Oliveira for many years, told VOA.

“I mean the down was the fact that it took so long. And I guess the up is that she was able to join the military and get a citizenship that way. So finally, it happened,” Schroeder said.

Kelly Oliveira, during her naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland
Kelly Oliveira, during her naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, Maryland, VOA

Embarking on a ‘new journey’

Margaret Stock, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who created the MAVNI program, told VOA she is not surprised by Oliveira’s successful story.

“That’s what’s supposed to happen. They’re eligible for citizenship and they’re supposed to be able to get it quickly,” Stock said.

But the retired Army lieutenant colonel said, even though there are stories like Oliveira’s, lots of recruits are still falling out of status due to the additional checks.

“So people are timing out and they can’t ship out to basic training until the [U.S. government] completes all these background checks,” she said.

In a previous interview with VOA, Stock said everyone who wants to serve in the military has to go through background checks but the government was already doing a lot more background checking on the MAVNIs.

“They are the most checked group of people that entered the U.S. military,” Stock said adding this is an investigation normally done on someone getting top-secret clearance with the U.S. government.

On Flag Day, Oliveira signed the papers. She checked in with immigration officials. Then the ceremony started.

Also read: Indian-American Diaspora Plays an Important Role in Country’s Development

“Sky’s the limit for me now it’s just the beginning of my new journey. Now I’m going to basic training in a couple of months, and I’m very excited about that,” Oliveira said. (VOA)