By M.C. Linthoingambee
This week I would like to take up the issue of the Iron Lady, someone for whom every person in the North-East knows about. Irom Chanu Sharmila is a social activist from the State of Manipur who is currently undergoing a hunger strike since November 2000 demanding for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 to cease its very existence. It has almost been more than 12 years wherein she is like a flame that ignites and goes poof under the glare of the limelight of the mass media community. She will yet again come under the radar as she is soon to face trial at the Delhi High Court following her protests which has been termed as attempted suicide as written under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code which is defined illegal under the paradigm of law. Today, we can only hope and pray that the law makers do right by her someday.
It is of crucial importance to remember that once, the first Independence Flag of the present day India was hoisted on the outskirts of Moirang, a place not far from the State Capital of Manipur, Imphal. And it was from that recent momentum of such Independence that we were forced to live by the ideology of the AFSPA which questioned the very fragment of freedom stating, “Did we really get our Independence back then?” The date was 11 September, 1958 that we came to accept the reality of a limiting environment our homes. Today, this uncertainty revolves around our fundamental rights questioning the very existence of democracy in our country. What is the act known for? Would we term it as a tyrant or a savior in the dwelling sarcasm of the unseen sanctity? And where do we stand in the midst of all this unseen fog that covers the harshness of reality? The answer lies nowhere.
Many others protestors have come forth to support the cause of Irom Sharmila but to no avail. Many others are taking to Protest Art which is a virtual art form where one expresses the same ideas of heaving a protest using art as a medium has gained a strange momentum in demanding for a real CHANGE. Once in the colonial era, we were bound, chained, slaved, today even with refuge of freedom what differences have been made when our sons, husbands, daughters, wives, our loved ones are taken away or snatched from our palms. Would you stand by if the same happened to your daughters or sons? For this, she cries, she weeps but then again, she is a relative backbone that we rely on very much to hope that one day, our sons and daughters may live in a Utopia of change.
During the course of her struggle against AFSPA, Irom Sharmila has received recognition from various quarters. In 2007, she received the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights for outstanding advocacy of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights. In 2010, she won the lifetime achievement award from the table of the Asian Human Rights Commission. Of late that very year, she also received the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize and the Sarva Gunah Sampannah for preaching the principles of Peace and Harmony. She is indeed an inspiration for a song, a poem, a verse as used by many artistes and activists today.
“Public Resistance” remains a dream without a leader. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Nation preached Satyagraha in the thoughts of restoring his land to its rightful owners. Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream” and conquered the nation and led them to believe that we the people shall overcome anything if and only if we stand by our principles. In much the same way, Irom Sharmila remains the icon of such a public resistance for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
One of the main criterion of passing the AFSPA lies in the divinity terming a region as being a “disturbed” area. Of course, I would be negating my claim if I say our region had been completely washed away from all social evils but I do believe that the very idea or the root cause of shape shifting the present legislation of AFSPA is wrongly misused in the hands of the armed man. The state paramilitary forces were created to protect our rights, “us”, “we”, we, who are called the citizens of India as laid down in the permanent fixture of the Constitution of India. I had also gone past many a military camps where I have met armed men who loves their motherland with a viable true intent. I also keep hearing stories of their postings in the Saichen Glacier, one of the coldest borders of the Indo-China line of control where they undergo the most extreme temperatures and delivered victory in such many circumstances. But this part of the stanza goes diminished as some notable self assumed Victorians go beyond the libe of protecting and goes killing. The Incident of the “Malom Massacre” remains the crux that led to the emergence of the Iron Lady of Manipur to the start of her non ending hunger strike demanding for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. The very act that allows soldiers to arrest or shoot “anyone who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so”.
The act also specifies that “Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government`s judgement on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review. Re-looking the virtual nature of the above incident, we will find that the act was merely the killing of the innocents. The people who lost their lives in the Malom incident were all gunned down while waiting for a bus. They were all unarmed civilians. Where in the said act are such actions justified? Its very birth violates the provisions mentioned in the Constitutional backdrop thereby promulgating that the idea of Article 13 that is, laws which are inconsistent with the fundamentals of the living Constitution of India (the parent legislation) must be struck down.
(M.C. Linthoingambee is an undergraduate pursuing B.Com. LL.B(H). An avid blogger, poet, a seasonal artist and a foodie, she is also a life member to the Indian Society of the Red Cross.)