12 OCTOBER, 2014
Irom Chanu Sharmila is fighting against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Assam and Manipur) 1958 (AFSPA), amended in 1972, which provides the armed forces down to the rank of a non-commissioned officer, the power to shoot and kill, to enter and search and arrest without warrant, any person against reasonable suspicion that he/she has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence.
14 years ago on 2nd November 2000, the security forces gunned down 10 innocent citizens at a bus stop in Imphal. The dead included an 80 year old woman and a bravery award winner child. Shaken by the incident Irom Sharmila, after 3 days, started her indefinite fast against the AFSPA that shields the security forces even after such indiscriminate firings on innocent people.
She was released by the court in August this year saying that there is no case for attempted suicide against her. After the release from prison, Irom Sharmila said, “we should all look for a solution to the issue so that we can all live together, eat, drink and sleep together. I am no martyr. I am a normal person. I also want to have a meal.” She has been following the non-violent path of Gandhi and keeps a statue of legendary Meerabai by the side of her bed in the hospital ward. Despite this, the police arrested her again after three days of her acquittal.
Driven by love and compassion, Irom Sharmila is not aligned with any organization or ideology. She is not using any violence. She is not even shouting any slogan nor is she holding up any banner. She has decided to subject herself to torture for the sake of others. She doesn’t want to hurt anybody, not even the state that she is fighting against. She only wants to help her fellow brothers and sisters of northeast so that they stop facing police and military excesses. The protest of Sharmila represents the most ideal form of peaceful struggle for a democratic demand. Her life is in danger considering her already fragile health due to the forced feeding for 14 years.
The AFSPA in northeast has been synonym for extra judicial killings, extra judicial deprivation of liberty to people by illegal imposition of curfew, long periods of detention at army posts and camps and use of churches and schools as detention or interrogation centers. Stories of rape and molestation of women are common. Who can forget the stunning sight of about three dozen naked women protesting on the street outside the then Assam Rifles headquarters at Kangla Fort in Imphal carrying placards saying ‘Indian Army rape us,’ outraged by the rape, torture and murder of 32 year old unmarried Thangjam Manorama?
There can be no denying that violence breeds more violence. Presence of armed forces in emergency or special situation is understandable, but its continuous presence has alienated people to significant extent. The number of insurgent groups has increased during the application of AFSPA in Manipur. Hence AFSPA must be repealed. The state, which complains about violent struggles, is not even comfortable with the most peaceful of all protests.
Sharmila’s sacrifice must not go waste. Her victory is essential for the strengthening of democracy in India and for the respect for human rights around the world. Her victory will determine whether the voice of common citizen will be heard or the state will trample over people’s rights with anti-people laws and policies. The Socialist Party demands that the Government of India must not let down Sharmila’s confidence in democracy and immediately take positive steps towards resolving the imbroglio in Manipur and in other northeast states. All it requires is some political will to act.