Irom Chanu Sharmila, the iconic activist who is called the Iron Lady of Manipur has been fasting from the past 12 years against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. The fact that such an iconic struggle of a woman ends up as a mere routine story like any other in India is itself a pathetic fact hard to gulp. She is on a Gandhian protest against an Act by the Central Government which gives undue advantage to the army over the public, but the government turns a blind eye. On top of that, our honorable PM Manmohan Singh (with all due respect) “appeals” to her to quit the fast despite an amicable solution. Her fast is unscrupulously being compared to that of Lokpal activist Anna Hazare whose fast lasted for 12 odd days (not even closely comparable to 12 years) and ended vaguely on a political note with his team member (Arvind Kejriwal, IAC member and ex-IRS officer) launching a party and Anna openly supporting it. She deserves atleast an iota of importance of what Anna Hazare has got for his fast. But before all that let’s get into what AFSPA is.
AFSPA- Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958
Passed by the union government in 1958 to curb the violence incurred by anti-social elements in disturbed areas (read North-Eastern India). This Act was later extended to Jammu and Kashmir.
Now, what is the significance of this Act?
Briefly saying, it gives undue advantage to the Indian Army to:
1) Fire upon any person in the disturbed area for maintenance of public order. This may even lead to death of the person.
2) Arrest any person without a warrant who has committed an offence or is suspected to have committed one.
3) Raid any house/area if felt suspicious of presence of arms/activists.
The Act gives army officers legal immunity against their actions. The Government has no say on the claims of the officers on either the area found to be disturbed or the person held responsible for anti-social activity. It is like a monarch ruling the area with no legal boundaries or strings attached.
Currently the so called disturbed areas in India are the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. Later this tag was given to Jammu and Kashmir.
In 2004 with intense agitation against the Act, the Government of India has appointed a committee under Justice Jeevan Reddy which in its report advised to either revise/repeal the Act with some human concerns. Even some of the army officers themselves recommended amendments to the Act like delegation of power etc.
Now getting back to Sharmila`s fast, she kept herself voluntarily denied of food and water for the past 12 years to protest against this draconian Act in Manipur. A vicious circle continues every year with the police detaining her under charges of “attemptive suicide”-releasing her-fasting again-getting arrested. This has been her routine from the past 12 years. Her case reached the doorsteps of court for 200 times by now. Where this culminates into is a million dollar question. When the government has the plenipotentiary to revoke the Act, I don’t see any reason why it is still hesitating to do so. The ulterior motives of it are hard to predict.
Her humble request to the outside world is, “treat me like ANNA”. That’s all she has got to say. Is it some kind of “misogyny” prevailing in the Indian society that overshadows Sharmila`s fast but enlightens Anna`s? Why are her vociferous demands unheard off when they are tantamount to those of Anna? Her 12 year old struggle deserves commemoration, but ultimately she is left with sympathies and no solutions. People supporting Sharmila say AFSPA is “dark” on Indian democracy. A truly democratic country is not driven by Acts like these, they say. But the counter-offense of the people who support AFSPA (basically those from the government) goes like this: anti-AFSPA means pro-insurgency. So the people opposing AFSPA are supporting violence and don’t want issues to be resolved, they say. Army doesn’t want the Act removed which says it will embolden militant groups.
Manipuris literally feel abandoned with both center and state not even remotely bothered about the state of affairs in their territory. This happening when Congress is in power both at the center and state. They say, “if not now, it never will” with such feasible conditions for it to be repealed. Violence is drastically down. Manipur featured less on national media in the past couple of years compared to Jammu and Kashmir, where the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah strongly pressed the then Union Home Minister Mr.P.Chidambaram to initiate the process of revoking AFSPA. People are far more matured compared to those age old times. Perfect time for the Act to be revoked. This seconded by many commissions and politicians.
Though Sharmila was conferred with many awards internationally from South Korea and other organizations including Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which is given to “an outstanding person or group, active in the promotion and advocacy of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights”, she politely refused them and fettered to her campaign unwavered. She says she won`t accept any award till AFSPA is repealed. Such high is her dedication to the cause.
A tale which truly deserves Nation`s bow. Hats off to her.