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Irom Sharmila on a lone crusade against AFSPA

Few weeks ago, towards the race for the ICC World Cup, we, the billions of Indians in India and around the world screamed, prayed, willed the Indian cricket team to win the cricket world cup and India won after a gap of 28 years! A billion prayers were answered. Few days later, we then collectively fought alongside Gandhian Anna Hazare to get the government to accept the improvised Jan Lokpal Bill and again we won.  Anna’s fast that spread over four days and thousands others who had joined him either through fasting with him or extending their physical and moral support, had got the desired effect and the government gave in to the pressure. Yet for the last ten years, one lone woman has been fasting for us – for ten long years with no outcome!

Irom Sharmila Chanu, aged 37, a Manipur resident, a poet and an activist has been fasting for the last ten years against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has been in force since 1958. The reason she has been alive all these years is because of the nasogastric tubation she is forced with at the hands of the police. Since 2000, Irom has not eaten a single morsel or had one drop of water but thanks to nasogastric tubation, she is alive though her health has deteriorated very much.

What prompted her to take such a drastic step that has seen her spend more time in jail then outside on charges of attempted suicide? It was the brutality of the military forces in the year 2000 which saw the massacre of ten civilians in the village of Malom in Imphal. The AFSPA has given the armed force the right to search and destroy properties and kill people suspected to be involved with insurgents in the country especially in the north eastern states.

Facebook and other social networking websites had to a far extent helped Anna Hazare to garner public support for a cause (read Jan Lokpal) that at times looks simply unachievable and frivolous – to do away with corruption in the country at all level. Once the Jan Lokpal Bill is amended and passed and Lokpal at country level and Lokayuktas at state levels come into force, does it guarantee that it will root out corruption completely without itself resorting to corruption to protect the tainted? Already, yesterday’s national dailies carried reports of ‘fake’ CDs being circulated that contained so called incriminating conversations of one of the Lokpal Bill’s co-chair person. What a start to the first meeting of the core committee members of the Lokpal Bill.

In Anna Hazare’s fight against the government, a loud hue and cry had been made by the media which was heard by not just the common man but also by celebrities and prominent citizens who rushed forward to be a part of Anna’s agenda of fighting corruption. Well known names that offered support to Anna are spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, retired IPS officer Kiran Bedi, politician Maneka Gandhi, sportsperson Kapil Dev among a host of others dignitaries. As much as the necessity of the Lokpal to come into existence is wanted to weed out corruption which is so rampant in the country, so is the repealing of the AFSPA a must for which Irom Sharmila has been waging a lone battle for the last 10 years.

Irom Sharmila, despite winning countless awards for her crusade, is probably not finding her voice reach out to the common man due to her deteriorating health. The death of the ten civilians in 2000 that included a 62-year old woman and an 18-year old who had been the recipient of the National Child Bravery Award in 1988 had left a deep scar in her life as a result of which she protested against the Armed Forces Act. But it seems that her protest is going in vain as the government for the last 10 years has been turning a blind eye to the reality that is Irom Sharmila. Even the world and the media (except for stray incidents) seem indifferent towards her selfless act. While Anna Hazare has been termed a hero, a Gandhian and a crusader by the mass and the face of the people’s crusade against corruption, Irom Sharmila has been labeled as a petty criminal by the government.

Today, insurgency in the north and especially north Indian states has intensified further thanks to the brutal assaults of the armed forces both against the insurgents as well as the common man who’s trapped between the government on one side, the insurgents on the other side and then the armed forces over their head. This has resulted in a negative image of the armed forces who over the years have misused the Armed Force Act left right and centre that has left a deep scar on the minds of the innocent people. Women have been raped over the years, innocent lives lost, people have disappeared from homes over night thanks to the armed forces operating freely in those regions. It was the testimony of one such girl who was raped by security forces in the Lamden village that was instrumental in Irom Sharmila fighting a lone battle far from the national capital city which had made a hero out of Anna Hazare.

Media needs to highlight this lone crusader for that one cause which has instrumental in the increase in the insurgent movement in Manipur and around it. Today, it’s the north Indian states, tomorrow the Armed Forces Act might spread to other states and like we witnessed a growth in insurgency across the north Indian states, other states might follow suit and this country will undergo a civil unrest like never seen before. Do we need that? Do we need our brethren to turn hostile towards society and the country at large? Do we need to produce more Dantewadis under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act? Act now and support Irom Sharmila before it’s too late. Raise your voice!