Resurrecting Irom Sharmila

A diversionary tactics, but a worthy one


Prasanna Mohanty | September 2, 2011

Irom Sharmila
Irom Sharmila

Irom Chanu Sharmila, the ‘iron lady’ of Manipur, is back in the limelight. For a few weeks now, in fact. Certain media houses and public intellectuals resurrected her ever since Anna Hazare went on a fast at the Ramlila Grounds.

Not that hers is any lesser a fight. By all accounts, hers is fiercer, far more painful and courageous. She has been on a fast unto death for more than a decade, seeking withdrawal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958. Ever since then, she is languishing in judicial custody, with a yearly token release to fulfill certain legal obligations, and is being force-fed through the nose.

The trouble is that the long-forgotten woman has been resurrected only to serve the vested interests, to belittle Anna’s crusade.

Here is a typical example. Last night in ‘India @ 9’ programme, “What should be Anna’s next agenda”, CNN-IBN editor Rajdeep Sardesai discussed at length about Sharmila’s invitation to Anna to help her cause and then concluded with his advice to Anna at the end of it: “Please don’t become rent-a-cause activist.”

That speaks volumes of his real motive in propping up Sharmila. Clearly, he has little faith in Sharmila’s fight, or for that matter any fight against the oppressing, authoritarian and corrupt establishment. His channel is incessantly talking about Sharmila to divert attention away from Anna. Nothing more, nothing less.

No different is home minister P Chidambaram. He couldn’t help shedding some crocodile tears. He told media persons earlier in the day: “I am disappointed too. I am trying my best to revisit AFSPA, but as you know, one needs consensus within the government before amendments can be brought before parliament. We are trying.”

This is after remaining immune to her pain and that of those at the receiving end of the draconian AFSPA for more than a decade, or at least since 2004 when he became part of the UPA government.

Sharmila started her fast unto death on November 2, 2000. This was in protest against the killing of 10 civilians in Manipur in what has come to be known as the Malom Massacre. The Assam Rifles jawans sprayed bullets at innocent civilians waiting at the bus stand for no apparent reason.

The AFSPA meant that the killers couldn’t even be arrested or tried for their crimes. Instead of the killers, Sharmila was arrested on the charge of “attempting to commit suicide”, put in judicial custody and force-fed.

Everything was forgotten until July 2004, when a woman called Thangiam Manorama was picked by some other Assam Rifles jawans, raped and shot dead. Her body was dumped in a public place. The entire state erupted in protest. A few women staged a nude protest. It was only then prime minister Manmohan Singh reacted and promised to replace AFSPA with a “humane” law. A committee was appointed under Justice Jeevan Reddy, a retired judge of supreme court, to examine the law.

Reddy submitted is report in 2005. The first two sentences of his chapter dealing with recommendations read:

“The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 should be repealed. Therefore, recommending the continuation of the present Act, with or without amendments, does not arise.”

That sums of what AFSPA is all about. It has two draconian provisions. One, it gives the jawans power to “shoot to kill” and two, immunity from prosecution. Justice Reddy said, after AFSPA was imposed in “disturbed areas” that now includes Jammu and Kashmir, apart from the northeast, violence has increased.

But as Chidambaram said, there is no consensus in the government even after seven years of trying. Did anybody try, Mr Chidambaram?

In the meanwhile, Irom Chanu Sharmila continues to live in sub-human conditions. She saw some hope in Anna’s movement and appealed to him that now that he had broken his fast at the Ramlila Grounds, he should go to Manipur to help her fight the battle against AFSPA.

But Rajdeep, and surely many other public intellectuals like him, would like Anna to remain confined to Ralegan Siddhi lest the status quo is disturbed.



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