Sharmila, Media and Manipuris

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By: Sanjib Meitei

I am a staunch supporter of Irom Sharmila’s struggle against the draconian law Arm Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). I too, always feel that mainland Indian media houses are biased while handling two Gandhians of modern India – one from a neglected and failed state called Manipur trying to make people and leaders in mainland India hear that people living here are yet to get democratic rights even though India is celebrating its 64th years of independence while the other Gandhian belongs to one of the most prosperous states of India taking up a cause called corruption which most of the people enjoy indulging it personally at various levels but problematic when others indulge it at his cost. The only similarity between the two Gandhian activists is that both of them resorted to indefinite hunger strike to press their demands. Unfortunately, the similarity ends here. Anna Hazare took the nation by storm. Central government had to bow down in front of Mr. Hazare. The whole India got to know the modern era Gandhi, Mr. Anna Hazare, whose struggle lasted for a few months and almost succeeded getting his goals. Not bad and he rightly deserves to get respect for bringing awareness among the ignorant people of the country (I hope so and I would love to live in a corruption free society). One thing is clear. The mighty Indian government is not intimidated by any person but it’s afraid of the mass who can vote
them out of power. The success of his war against corruption would not have been easy had the media houses not covered each of his moves. Credit should go to media also for making the issue reaches to common men and gain their support. For media, it was a win -win situation. They got their expected TRP besides supporting a patriotic cause.

The other Gandhian is more humble and her cause is relevant to only a fraction of Indian population although it is not less important than that of Mr. Hazare by any standard. Most of the people living in AFSPA free states never heard about the Act itself let alone support the cause. Before Mr. Hazare become famous, I came across only a very few editorials of Hindi/English dailies supporting her cause while many retired army officials and other prominent people opposed it openly saying the reasons which sound so theatrics and painful to us. Their reason for supporting AFSPA sounds more hypocrite now a days after hearing the reason for their reluctance to use the same yardstick to treat the people of Naxalite affected areas of India where the condition seem at least similar if not more worse than APSPA implemented states.

For the last 11 years, Irom Sharmila has been fighting a lone battle against the law enforcers of the biggest democratic country in the world begging our basic democratic rights other than right to vote. No media house is interested in highlighting the plight of the people of India living without democratic rights. Their reluctance may be partly due to lack of response from their audience regarding the issue and simple arithmetic is that in this big bad competitive world, money matters. For them, money is directly linked to the number of audience for each news article. I think I could understand (at least I tried to convince myself that) the reluctance of media houses to put Ms. Sharmila on headlines is nothing discriminatory but simply business related issue. During Mr. Hazare’s fast, she has been compared with Anna Hazare and as a result many people got to know her even though most of them are not interested in knowing her cause for the indefinite fast. Ignorant people even hurled insults to hercause. Some prominent columnists and so called social commentators like Mr. Santosh Desai questioned the legitimacy of her demand without trying to understand the illegitimacy of the Act. Well, it’s unfortunate to say the least. Many people seem to hate people getting basic democratic rights even though they are fully enjoying it.

[box color=”blue” type=”note” align=”left” size=”small”]As for people like Mr. Dersai, had you ever been slapped across your face just because your name sound like a name of an outlawed person by a jawan frisking you in a cold late evening when returning home after a long day at work or had one of your sisters or your wife had to go to labor in the middle of the street just because there was a combing operation going on to identify some suspected terrorists by security personals, then I think, your comments would have been
different[/box]. It’s very hard to explain the importance of basic democratic rights which you never had to struggle for in your life. Let me give you an example. I came across the love and hate relationship between Mahatama Gandhi and then British Prime Minister Mr. Winston Churchill who is considered as one of the greatest statesman and war time leader in UK. Despite the latter’s statesmanship and leadership quality for leading UK during hard times, he was against Indian independence movement.
There were reports that he favored letting Mahatama Gandhi die as a result o f indefinite hunger strike so that British rule could be continued in India. It’s very easy to Churchill than being Gandhi. I think same is happening in India now. It is very easy to deny basic democratic rights but very difficult to acknowledge and support it for the sake of others. While trying very hard to convince myself the logical reason behind Sharmila’s cause not being on headlines with its deserved importance, there came the news regarding Ms. Sharmila’s confession for her love of a person who she believes that he is the one. My wife called me up and informed me that she just came across the news of Sharmila’s romantic tryst. I told her that it’s good thing to happen to our beloved Gandhian. After all, love makes life beautiful and in fact the world is beautiful when you are in love. I pray that the two beautiful people in this world live happily for the rest of their life. When I read the news, I was saddened by the fact that Sharmila is not happy with the way her close associates treated the man whom she loves. I feel that if AFSPA is draconian, then objecting to Sharmila’s choice of partner is much more draconian. As usual, the chaos begins the next day in Manipur. Some
people are demanding the editor of newspaper in question to come down to Manipur and apologies to the people of Manipur. Isn’t it too much?

There are two big problems

(i) the way telegraph India sensationalized the news which sounded rather insulting to the people who are suffering under AFSPA than any show of sympathy on Sharmila’s struggle per se and

(ii) the way on how people reacted to the situation by directly resorting to violence. Violent reaction on this issue demeans Sharmila’s genuine sacrifice and struggle.

It simply accelerates the deviation of the focus from the genuine issue and making it a romantic comedy. I think, our political leaders (if they genuinely felt for the plight of the people of Manipur), social activists and organizations can express their displeasure regarding the news which sounded like making a joke of Sharmila’s personal life instead of appreciating her struggle. If the news is baseless, I would appeal to social groups to sue the media house to teach them a lesson. Even if it is genuine news, we can still make our displeasure known to the media house on the way how they handled it. It should be made clear that even if the mainland media houses could not appreciate or help the genuine cause of our beloved lady’s sacrifice, they should not try to malign it by sensationalizing it by giving a negative light. The editors and reported should remember the old saying that “If you cannot help someone, then at least don’t do bad for the person”. You people have a big role to play in maintaining cultural harmony and national integrity. Instead of making the people of Manipur out of place by sensationalizing the news in a different light other than the people of Manipur expect, you can help the genuine cause of our Iron lady. [box color=”green” type=”quote”  ] To me, I respect Mahatama Gandhi much more than Mr. Winston Churchill for the formers ideology of non violence and equality of rights even though the latter won a big war against non democratic groups. In the land of Gandhi, let us not follow Churchill’s footsteps.[/box]

[box type=”info” color=”green”]The above article was sent to Kanglaonline.com by Sanjib Meitei, sanjibmeiteicha[at]rediffmail.com[/box]

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