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Monday, February 14, 2011

Irom Sharmila Chanu: 100 days Away from 3652 days of hunger

IIPM BBA MBA Institute: Student Notice Board

As Irom Sharmila Chanu inches towards completing ten full years of her hunger strike against AFSPA and as civil rights activists try to leverage the occasion to give fresh impetus to the struggle, the government remains unmoved

It began about ten years ago. On November 2, 2000, troops of 8 Assam Rifles recklessly shot down 10 civilians at a bus stop in Malom, Manipur. The incident is now better known as the Malom Massacre. The people of Manipur came out on the streets and demanded a magisterial inquiry into the incident. However, to the dismay of all, the army, using the brutal authority conferred upon them by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA), disallowed any such inquiry.

This convinced Irom Sharmila Chanu, a civil rights activist, then 28, that people of Manipur had had enough. The AFSPA must be repealed immediately, she thought. On the evening of November 4, after taking the blessings of her mother, she began an indefinite hunger strike. The objective of her protest was the repeal of the AFSPA from the state of Manipur. However, in due course over the last nine years, she has extended the scope of her demand to all regions of India's Northeast where AFSPA has been imposed.

AFSPA provides special powers to arrest, detain and even kill civilians on mere suspicion. Many forced disappearances, extra-judicial killing, torture, rape and arbitrary detention have been routinely reported from the areas that are under AFSPA rule. When the law was introduced in Parliament in 1958, the Union home minister had said the Act would be in operation for only six months, but somehow it has lasted more than 52 years now.

Sharmila is just months away from completing 10 years of hunger strike. The 100 days countdown towards the completion of 10 years has begun in Imphal. For the next 100 days, different kinds of cultural programmes will be organised. Activities like spot painting, rickshaw rallies, mime plays, public meetings and poster campaigns will mark the countdown. A festival of hope, justice and peace will also be held from November 2 to November 6. Some programmes will also be organised in other parts of the country, the convener of the organising committee, Irom Singhajit (the elder brother of Sharmila) told TSI.

The 100 days countdown was kicked off at a function organised by Just Peace Foundation in Manipur Press Club in Imphal with the objective of showing solidarity to Irom Sharmila Chanu and her cause. 100 days Away from 3652 days of hunger Sharmila has become the face of the protest against AFSPA in the Northeast. Many well known writers and social activists, including Arundhati Roy, Mahasweta Devi, Shirin Ebadi, Prabir Ghosh, Sumitra Padmanabhan and Sandeep Pandey, have lent their support to her and her cause. She was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights on May 18, 2007. The award was instituted by the Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School, which is a South Korean human rights body.

In 2004, in the wake of an intense agitation launched by several civil society groups following the death of Manorama Devi in the custody of the Assam Rifles and the indefinite fast undertaken by Irom Sharmila, the then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited Manipur and reviewed the situation with the concerned state authorities. In the same year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured activists that the government would consider their demand sympathetically.

The central government accordingly set up a five-member committee under the chairmanship of Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, a former judge of the Supreme Court. The panel was given the mandate to review the provisions of AFSPA and advise the government of India whether (a) to amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of human rights or (b) to replace the Act with a more humane Act.

The Reddy Committee submitted its recommendations on June 6, 2005, that clearly stated that AFSPA should be repealed. However, the government failed to take any concrete action on the recommendations. The then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee rejected the withdrawal or significant dilution of the Act on the grounds that 'it is not possible for the armed forces to function' in 'disturbed areas' without such powers.

Sharmila is lodged in Imphal's Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital amid high security. She is being kept alive through painful nasogastric intubation. She has been charged with attempt to commit suicide under section 309 of the IPC. She has been under a ritual of release and arrest every year since 2000 because under the IPC section 309, a person can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

"The hunger strike is a form of protest that even Mahatma Gandhi used in his fight against injustice. Now, if Sharmila uses it to fight against the atrocities of the Indian forces, she is being treated as a criminal and kept under detention,' says Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of Human Rights Alert. He adds, 'Amnesty International has recently come out with a statement that a person on a hunger strike cannot be treated as a criminal. It is unethical on part of the Indian government to detain her.' Dr. W. Nabakumar, dean, School of Human and Environment Sciences, Manipur University, agrees, 'To imprison a woman who is protesting in a non-violent way against a draconian law is gross violation of law from the humanitarian point of view.'

Renowned filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma says he has not made a film on Sharmila for he feels it would not be easy. 'I don't think I will be able to reflect her inner strength. I haven't even met the remarkable lady. It would be shameful to meet her when one has three square meals a day. A person with a full stomach will not understand her agony. It is an extraordinary struggle by an extraordinary woman.'

In March this year, the Science and Rationalists' Association of India and the Humanist Association demanded that Irom Sharmila Chanu be nominated once again for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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