Sharmila challenges Centre

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Nishit Dholabhai 
KOHIMA, Sept. 5: Irom Chanu Sharmila has thrown a challenge to the Centre and to the people of the country to take up the cause of the Northeast and its peoples’ right to life.

Speaking to The Telegraph in Imphal on Saturday, Sharmila said the standards by which the Northeast and the rest of India were treated were different but did not differentiate between the government and the people while talking about the partial treatment.

The 39-year-old, who has been fasting for almost 11 years against the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958, dared activists like Anna Hazare to look Northeast.

Asked if she would visit Ralegaon Siddhi, Hazare’s village in Maharashtra to seek support, Sharmila had a simple argument. “I revere him, I want to meet him. But I am a prisoner, he is not,” she said by way of inviting Hazare.

The anti-corruption crusader has apparently planned to visit Manipur once he regains strength in a show of solidarity for repeal of the army act.

Sharmila wondered whether the mentality of the people of the Northeast and those of “mainstream India” was somewhat different on the repeal of the army act and terrorism, thereby challenging the disconnect between the two segments and the apathy of the “mainstream”. “When they impose TADA or POTA in the mainstream, they wholeheartedly support its repeal but in our case they think it is inevitable,” she said.

Thus, while the army is wary of “fighting our own people” in Naxal-affected central India, it guards its control over counter-insurgency operations in the region. They even used a gunship aircraft in Mizoram when insurgency was at its height there.

It is obvious that Sharmila was targeting the UPA government, particularly the Congress, which is against TADA and POTA but is unable to build a consensus in its own government. As far as the BJP is concerned, it has a standard take on all draconian laws — they must continue.

Sharmila felt it was unpalatable for the government that the people of the Northeast were “rebellious”. “They don’t like to treat us like mainstream people…in their eyes we are inferior classes, we are rebellious. They like to suppress us because they are scared of us and our stamina. In the field of games and sports also we are indomitable,” she said, with the metaphorical punch of fellow Manipuri boxer Mary Kom.

Sharmila’s argument finds reflection in the fact that the army is used nowhere for operations except Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast.

It is also known that the home ministry’s proposal of taking Assam Rifles under its control — at present, the oldest paramilitary force is under the army’s operational control — was opposed tooth and nail by the defence ministry.

Sharmila is unwilling to give in to pressure either on her personal front or in her mission to right to life. The rights activist, who has become a symbol for civil society groups, said she would continue with her mission till she attains her goal of repeal of the army act. She described herself as one who is always experimenting.

Asked about fulfilling her personal dreams like marriage while fasting, she said tests needed to be passed for every upgrade. “For any promotion, we have to pass an experiment. In my case, I am experimenting to get success for making a difference for the whole society,” she said.

Report reaction

Just Peace Foundation, Imphal, a rights group supporting Irom Sharmila, termed the report about her personal life published in The Telegraph today an attempt to drive a wedge between the rights activist and her supporters.

Saxena had reportedly been introduced to Argal, Kulaste and Bhagora as a secretary of Amar Singh. He was caught on camera paying them money.

Slammed by the Supreme Court for shoddy probe in the case, the police made their first arrest in the case – of Saxena – July 17.

The case was registered in 2009 on the recommendation of a parliamentary panel which probed the scandal.

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