Editorial – Cycle of Indignity

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Irom Sharmila Chanu, the frail iron-willed young lady who has been fasting for a decade and still continuing to do so, to have the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958, repealed, has been released today. It is anybody’s guess she would be rearrested tomorrow on the same old charge of attempt to commit suicide. The release and re-arrest is just a matter of avoiding a legal hurdle which forbids an under-trial prisoner to be held in custody more than a year at a time. This has been an annual cyclic ritual. Her 10 years in jail has been in this sense a series of at least 10 annual arrests and detentions. What a sorry state of affairs this has become. Since the government apparently has no intent of addressing and resolving the issue for which Sharmila is on a fast, the detention of the lady is today reduced to merely an act of prolonging a suicide death and not anything remotely to do with removing the conditions which led her to the extreme decision of self denial. Can there be a situation more pronounced than this of the clichéd farcical strategy of treating the symptom of a disease after ignoring the disease itself?
It is really a no win situation and at this time of the year every year when Sharmila comes into the picture, all sensitive observer would suffer from depression. That the indomitable will of this courageous lady is matched by the stubborn intransigence of the state is no consolation or comfort. The build up of the emotional charge, and indeed the entire atmosphere surrounding this sorry episode resembles quite uncannily the approach to the climax of a Greek tragedy. The hubris and harmatia of those in power, the hoi polloi watching helplessly, sympathising with the protagonist but wishing she would tone down her courage not in any disregard of her resistance, or of any respect for the object of her resistance, but so that she lives. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that Sharmila would not see freedom again. She is not going to be allowed this at any cost. Either she gives up her belief, or else she perishes seems to be the fate written large for her. Since she is unlikely ever to give up, God forbid saying this, her death by starvation may be delayed but seems almost a certainty.
It is difficult to imagine why the Indian state is not paying any heed to Sharmila’s clarion call. It should have also noted that her resistance is sending out more messages than she even intended. Here is somebody who has abjured the use of violence as a language of resistance, and instead has resorted to the non-violent Gandhian way of doing just this, and yet in the land of Gandhi, this is being disregarded. What a message it would have been for those who think armed struggle is the only way to have the state listen, if Sharmila were to win what she set out to achieve. Her defeat, by the same logic would also buttress the contrary conclusion that violence is the only substantive language that the state understands and listens to. Probably nobody who matters in the policy circle would take these thoughts seriously and this is unfortunate, for indeed depending on how the state responded to the Sharmila issue, the matter could have been transformed into a game changer in the entire debate on violence as language of engaging the state.
But regardless of how the state responds to it, Sharmila’s resistance would and must carry on until a resolution, desirably a democratic one, is reached. It is sad but true, the most resolute resistance has always involved martyrdom, and in Sharmila, we are already staring at one. She is very much alive, but already has a foot in martyrdom. We hope she remains a living legend that she is, and that her martyrdom does not involve death as martyrdom is generally understood to. We also hope she wins, and this could very well have been without anybody losing. This is probably why the AFSPA was considered for repeal by none other than the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh himself, and on several occasions, by the Union home minister, P Chidambaram. However, there is a military lobby and mindset which sees only in terms of binaries, so that no game is ever won without one party losing. In the zero sum game thus conjured up, Sharmila and her non-violent struggle must lose so that the military approach to problem solution wins. How very tragic this situation has been made to become indeed.

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