Ten days from today, on November 2, Irom Sharmila Chanu, the Lady with an iron will and unparalleled commitment would have completed 10 long years of her non-violent and unique resistance against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958. On this day exactly a decade ago, she decided she would go on a fast till the draconian Act which gives sweeping powers and legal immunity to the Army to tackle insurgency in areas declared as disturbed under the Disturbed area Act, DAA, is repealed. In this sordid tale of protracted conflict, it is should provide a telling insight that much of the northeast has been declared disturbed for a greater section of the 63 years Indian became independent of the British colonial yoke. The question why this is so, normally would elicit very simplistic answers from a lot many in the establishment, but for those capable of thinking and feeling a little deeper than the skin, the answer would not be so obvious. That the problem the AFSPA was meant to eliminate continues to fester on even after as much as six decades, is itself a proof that the answer we seek is far from simple. It is also a pointer that the strategy employed to arrive at the answer may have all along been on a false track. That is to say, not only is the answer difficult, but the effort to arrive at it has not been either appropriate or adequate.
To the conscientious, Sharmila’s epic saga of unprecedented hunger strike, should serve as a reminder that this labyrinth we are in is deadly rather than simple and what is essential is for all to periodically reassess their stances, and with it, be prepared to even change course if necessary. This is of course if the hunt for a solution the problem at hand is in earnest as so many so readily claim. Unfortunately, nobody seems flexible, liberal or pragmatic enough to acknowledge that after all it may not be only the others, but equally the self which may be at fault. Without doubt, in the conflict situation we are caught in today, this harsh reality of intellectual and moral obduracy applies to all the various players, aligned to the establishment as well as those pitted against it. And so here we are, stuck right in very first square we planted our feet in when we began the hunt for the elusive answer, not having taken any substantive step away from it in all of half a century. No lesson was learnt, and nobody still willing to learn any. What lies ahead till as far as imaginable under the current circumstances is in this sense very much predetermined. The labyrinth will continue to be incomprehensible, and therefore a way out of it is also unlikely to show up unless in the case of a miracle. At the risk of stating the obvious, it would do everybody good to keep in mind that miracles do not happen anymore or perhaps never ever did happened before, except in fairy tales. They are earned. So must the situation be allowed to continue? If the war must continue on, cannot there be also something as a clean war, where all protagonists lay a premium on human rights and humanitarian norms set by the international community. But best of all is for the war to end with the best possible compromise worked out. If the word compromise is objectionable, then let it be in the spirit of give and take. For surely there can be no clear victory for anybody in this never ending war.
At this moment, the concern must be to save Sharmila. Here too the answer cannot be simple. The draconian AFSPA must either go totally or else be tamed by civil norms. The latter option was what the 5-member commission headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Jeevan Reddy, recommended, in keeping with the promise of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to render the AFSPA humane. However the establishment, it is apparent now, is not ready to comply with the commission’s recommendations. Amidst this stalemate, should everybody simply give up and wait for the lady who has already spent 10 precious years of her youthful years, jailed in a hospital cell, to be sacrificed on the altar of martyrdom. The most terrible thought is, Sharmila’s likely martyrdom ultimately, will be in vain, for the half-century old labyrinth we have all been trying to negotiate is unlikely to fade away even in such an eventuality. The AFSPA would probably continue; the war would have become even more depressing with ideologies coming to be further clouded by the ways of unceasing waves of extortionist mafias hijacking them; and the sense of resignation of the common people to their overwhelming fate would have become even more pronounced. We have no doubt the AFSPA must go, but should not the conditions which prompted the introduction of the Act in the first place also come under some means of civil moderation?