Friday, June 17, 2011

Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

This post has been written for nextGen India’s blog contest (http://www.nextgenindia.com/this-months-contest/)
India is known as the ‘land of the miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of this “incredible india” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands the revoke of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA). The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting the law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958(enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. But its AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of the women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one of the thousands of the victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army rape us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things...they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still don’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina’s kaif new boyfriend is apparently more important a news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’..it has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?
In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…thats another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The north-east people are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India. But interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peaceful at night”, they argue. So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced..but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on the roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

Also published @

24 comments:

  1. An article worth reading, not like the news channels which focus on nonsense news. Irom Sharmila will get justice for the long fight she has been fighting for the people of Manipur.

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  2. yea..hopefully! its high time.. 11 years!! i just read that SC has finally noticed her...

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  3. very good write-up devika :)

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  4. Well summed up in the end that army commands a lot of respect in India. I too find it very hard to believe reading reports of atrocities by the Army in J&K, North-East. They seem like fabricated stories by Pak.
    Ok accepted there hv been a few stray incidents but does it warrant such a scathing attack on the Army. (" Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood" - is it not a bit over the top :P)

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  5. north thinks southies r aliens..,.,southies think the same..both of them together think east is backward so they neglect it..we can connect with the plihght of earthquake n tsunami victims in japan but not about our own ppl...

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  6. Eye-opening article!! Something really needs to be done...it's high-time!!! Tanya

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  7. @RG.. no its not. stray incidents can not force people to sacrifice their life for a cause. Irom sharmila is not mad..shes not a stubborn woman. shes not even some intellectual.. with an ideology(anarchism or watever) n is out to die for it. she is fighting against injustice. she started her hunger strike after the malom massacre... that was the climax. In the malom massacre, civilians who were killed were labeled as 'terrorists'.

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  8. @swathi.. rightly said. we blame china for tibet...wat abt us. is North-east..Manipur less than tibet!

    @Tanya thnx fr the input tanya :) n ya theres a candle-light march on 25th june..6 to 8 at Rajghat. if ur in delhi, do come for it. if ur nt...inform ur friends in delhi :)

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  9. Its true that something must be done about AFSPA but it can't be removed all together. However what can be done is that it be relaxed a little and then slowly and steadily over a fixed time-frame it should be taken out. If the situation worsens, then it can obviously be put back but if the situation improved then that is a good thing.

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  10. i agree wid u dhruva :) bt nw i wonder wat makes the situation worse.. Military rule is the worse thng that cn happen to any state coz AFSPA means dictatorship...n allows for an iron curtain. in no situation, shd the army be given all powers. actually any power which goes unchecked can prove to be fatal.

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  11. found ur link from e-pao.net. Feel really great reading your post. Great to know that people from mainland India are also recognizing Irom Sharmila Chanu's relentless efforts. Her hunger strike shall only pay off if all the people feel the same way as you do. Keep up the good works!

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  12. @Dhruva MAthur, Why do u think AFSPA cannot be removed all over? In the year 1958, there were no insurgents group in Manipur, the oldest UNLF came up in 1962. Then, why do u think AFSPA was used in Manipur? With no insurgents groups in the beginning, AFSPA has beautifully given birth to more then 20+ groups now, so whose fault do u think it is?

    @Devika, thnx :)

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  13. @Rojit people from the mainland India are ignorant.. thats y they dont knw n havent recognised the efforts of the great lady bt when they do, they support her :) n dis is our motive..to spread the word. we r all indians..bt even before that, we r all humans :) we r wid Irom Sharmila..we r wid Manipur :) thnx a lot for ur input..really appreciated it :)

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  14. Great Read! E Pao Manipur on FB told me about your blog. Feels good to know that folks like you are really concerned about the situation in Manipur.

    Only if we Indians were not so ignorant about issues concerning our own countrymen!

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  15. thnx Aniruddha :) n yaaa i agree..i blame the media to a good extent.. bt ofcourse nt giving a clean chit to the general north indian mentality regarding the north-east.

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  16. First, let me congratulate u 4 the award. it has been a long wait for us to be accepted by our own nation; i hope this wait shall be over now. atleast we have people like you who can identify us as indians and not "chinkis". we are not alone in this struggle and this struggle is not against the govt. even. is it too much to ask for the right to live? if we are branded as terrorist and anti-national, then m afraid that India's path of democracy is strayed.

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  17. Integrity of India lies on Justice, so injustices are to be removed at best possible way

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  18. @anum.. i agree with u. n lets nt talk abt the defi of democracy in this country! dis fight is nt just of manipur or the north-east.. its the struggle of the common man(people) against the govt.. the common man is the same everywhere.. frozen in time and space!

    @anonymous.. i agree wid u

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  19. You clearly have never met Irom Sharmila and know little about her. But as I am her chosen spokesman I can take you one step closer. Her current problem is double death threat mounted by local manipuri gangsters led by Babloo Longtoibam. Manipuris choose not to comment on them. But no one has challenged the veracity of my claims. Second and I need to be more observant of this she does not approve of confrontation. No intelligent citizen objects to robust rules of engagement for their own security forces when we ask them to do a difficult job. However AF(SP)A is being used corruptly to devastate Manipur. The repeal of AF(SP)A is the first step to restore the rule of law. No judicial commission which has looked into the matter supports its retention. It also places all soldiers and their commanders and retired Indian politicians at risk of trial for War Crimes if they set foot pretty much anywhere in Europe. India is aware of its responsibilties under International law and entrenched in the soul of India from the Rig Veda through to the ayamas and silas which are at the foundation of all Indian philosophical and spiritual traditions. Human rights were first promulgated in India they did not arrive here by UN General Assembly votes. My name is Desmond Coutinho. deziecoutinho@yahoo.co.uk And yes she is about to secure her victory and all you activists who said nothing when she was under threat of assassination and it is clear this is because you believe her enemies can provide you with better prospects in this field shock horror I accuse Indians also of being corrupt. You may take all the credit I want a few months of honeymoon with her before we take to our peace ashram and when you have moved on to the next thing then they will come to finish the job. There was only one way this was going to end for us on a green hill far far away. If you knew her you would know what a joyful honour it has been and shall be to have been chosen by her.

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  20. @Coutinho
    I really don't know how to react to ur comment. I have been seriously misinterpreted, i guess but i fail to understand the reason! I am not taking any credit..for god's sake!

    "And yes she is about to secure her victory and all you activists who said nothing when she was under threat of assassination" if u'll read the article again, u'll seek my reply.

    "it is clear this is because you believe her enemies can provide you with better prospects in this field shock horror I accuse Indians also of being corrupt." cn u plz elaborate on this?

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  21. Let's elaborate then why not. Mr Loitongbam the nephew of the DG Imphal Police commandoes, whom some claim not to know, kicked off the Save Sharmila campaign from his own house. He controls the press, police, and NGOs in Manipur and can grant access to all the above for any new to the game. Odd then that you were all arrested or technically falsely imprisoned, because there is no offence in Indian law for making a one day token fast, it could be mistaken for a diet but it is palpably not against any law. Nor was there any need to protect you from violent crowds not in Imphal. You tell me what that was about the official report states it all shows proof undeniable that Sharmila is isolated even from her supporters. Yes and by whom, Sherlock. There is one campaign that would work to free her. Mr Loitongbam has already used it successfully to gain absolute power in Imphal for his Uncle. Put forward and vote only for MLAs in Manipur's State Elections to be held sometime during or after Spring 2012 who pledge to denotify Disturbed Area Status from all of Manipur. In general Activists are narcissists the real struggle is not against the Government or Mafia or General Evil, the enemy is always within the group in the jostling for position and pics in the paper. And if you are as honest a broker as you claim then you will have begun to figure out I may be fucking rude, but I don't talk as much shit as the rest of you. Nah I don't think they'll vote for change. Their masters like things the way they are. But change is coming. I hope.

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  22. And one quick update R K Anand managing trustee of JPF sometimes Babloo calls it her foundation well they stole her money. He has been elected as part of the Ibobi Singh Government in his acceptance speech well no point going with the opposition he always knew where the power lay. Fucking creeps but I guess you worked that one out now eh kid.

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