Mahatma Gandhi’s non violent fight for independence has left a mark in Indian history. The legacy of Gandhi’s non violence struggle lay deep in the soil of mother India and through her children has repeatedly sought to preserve mahatma’s principles of equality and justice. None can claim more to this patronage than Irom Chanu Sharmila.
Irom Chanu Sharmila is from Imphal, Manipur and was born on 14th march, 1972 (current age 44). Apart From being a civil right and political activists, she also took up writing poetry and literature as her part of life. IromChanuSharmila is famous as the “Iron lady” and “Mengoubi (the rightist)” for the longest hunger strike in the history (16 years) of India. Her fight is to end the suffering of her people through repealing of AFSPA (Armed forces special power act) and provide justice to the victims of the unwarranted mandate of this act.
What is AFSPA?
Armed forces special power act has been enforced in many states on India including Manipur. The vague formation of the provisions of the act grant extraordinary powers to the Indian army in “disturbed regions” of the specific state. The examples of such extraordinary powers are power to detain a person, use lethal forces, enter and search premises without warrant etc. essentially it is a draconian law for a military state that should ideally not find place in a democracy, let alone the world’s largest.
The bone of contention for this act has been the blatant human right violations that it facilitates in these disturbed regions. Torture, killings, cruel and inhuman treatment of civilians of the disturbed regions brings a demand amongst the majority of the states under this act to repeal this act. Manipur one of the seven sister states of northeast India has a long history of the military abusing its power under the reach of the act. Irom Chanu Sharmila is the voice of this resistance against the violation of human rights in Manipur.
Irom Chanu Sharmila’s strike started 16 years ago, on 5th of November,2000. The cause of the strike is famously known as the “Malom massacre”. On 2nd November, 2000 ten civilians were shot dead at a bus stop in Malom by the Assam riffles, an Indian paramilitary force operating in the state. Irom Chanu Sharmila started this fight when she was 28 in Malom. The agenda of the strike was to repeal AFSPA from functioning in the state of Manipur. Three days after she began fasting she was arrested and charged with an attempt to commit suicide which is unlawful under the Indian penal code (IPC) under section 309. Further, on 21st November her health started deteriorating, because of which Nasogastric intubation was forced upon her. Since then she has been arrested and released under the same charges for the last 16 years. Gradually her unselfish movement started gaining support of the youth and by 2004,she was the icon of public resistance. On 2nd October 2006, after release from her custody she went to pay a floral tribute to Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi. People at large came up for supporting her. 30 women protested naked in front of the Assam riffles headquarters shouting “Indian army rape us”. The impact of her hunger strike spread from northeast to the entire nation in these years. She was arrested in Delhi and was taken to the Indian institute of medical sciences. Meanwhile, Irom Chanu Sharmila gained support from various political parties for her fight like the Communist party of India, All India Trinamool congress etc. different campaigns were formed in support of her strike. One of the biggest was the Save Sharmila Solidarity campaign (SSSC) of 2011.
Irom Chanu Sharmila has met her mother only once since she started fasting and said seeing her mother’s anguish will break her. The Iron lady said “The day AFSPA is repealed I will eat rice from my mother’s hand.” On March 28th 2016, she was released from custody as the local court of Imphal released the charges against her.
On 26th July, 2016 irom chanu sharmila said that she will break her fast on 9th August and plans to continue her fight through participating in Politics by running for the state elections. The objective behind her fast and later ambitions to join politics of to remove AFSPA from action.
Sadly the northeast region of India has been a non-space part of the politics in our country. Currently Manipur is at an advanced stage of atrophy with corruption, many ethnic group and leadership. In such complexity of politics, the question that lies is whether Irom Chanu Sharmila can make a revolution with lack of political background and support?
There are some in Manipur and all over India who think Sharmila’s decision might unsettle her. Her decision did not go down well with her supporters and civil society who seem to be abandoning her. The other part strongly believes in this step and 16 years of her youth sacrifice cannot be erased from the history of a non-violent India.However change of her track and path from non-violence to political sphere is what Irom Chanu Sharmila thinks will help her to achieve her goals. Her fasting wasn’t getting her what she wanted and now she plans to raise her voice through a mainstream method which majority of the times pulls the person down to their knees. Irom Chanu Sharmila is very well aware of the consequences of getting into this playground which might cover her with mud. But for now according to her it is the need of the hour and she will continue her fight in the same grand heroic manner. Politics doesn’t work for anyone and everyone, such is the irony. Sharmila plans to stand for 2017 elections for the CM of Manipur. Her supporters and Manipur is looking forward to the future of this gem of a fight. This 44 year old didn’t eat for 16 years which makes none of us doubt her will power and determination to get AFSPA out of power.
Irom Chanu Sharmila in her poem “Wake up” was originally printed by Human rights Initiative beautifully portrays her fight.
“In the impact of this hard ship
Overwhelmed with anxiety and fear
With the prayer to almighty
Praising the spirit of truth
Touchily from this frail body
I am bidding farewell
Yet longing for life
Though birth is followed by death
So fond of to accomplice
My desired mission”
The reason Irom sharmila’s decision to join active politics creates a congratulatory term in my mind is due to the pragmatism it displays in Gandhian idealism. Most people criticized Gandhi’s resistance for being too idealistic. But Gandhi succeeded to create an Indian government and deliver to people like Irom sharmila the more viable alternative to not only resist but participate and change what she disagrees with. Irom sharmila’s decision to join politics is not a diversion from Gandhian principles but a fulfilment of the very objectives he fought for.
Her words and actions have got her to this height where the world articulates in every move she makes further to achieve her goals. Her non- violent hunger strike, willingness to sacrifice her personal life, immunity to survive and patience to win justifies the title of Iron Lady of Manipur. She proved herself to be a ray of hope in the darkness of her state. India has her watchful eye on this determination until the next elections in 2017.
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