It is heartening to hear that the Manipur government has finally eased the procedures for seeking an appointment with the iconic human rights activist Irom Sharmila. Though the source is unofficial, Sharmila who is currently lodged at a special security ward at JNIMS Hospital would now be accessible as any other undertrials. The major shift in the state’s government policy has reportedly been necessitated in observance of the recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission to remove the restrictions on access to Irom Sharmila. The commission had remarked that the solitary detention of Sharmila was a way for the state government ‘trying to break her spirit through this enforced isolation, for which there is no judicial mandate’ and had directed the state government to immediately remove the restrictions. Many suspect the doggedness and authority of the NHRC, but we can rejoice that it had served the visitors of Sharmila, who was earlier compelled to go through the official rigmarole to gain the green signal from the state home department.
The four-member team from Amnesty International, India was one of the first beneficiaries of the new policy on meeting Sharmila. According to its press statement, during their swiftly accomplished meeting on December 16, the delegates led by national chief executive G Ananthapadmanabhan shared details of its ‘Free Sharmila Campaign’ with her. Admittedly, even with its vast network spreading to every nook and corner of the globe, the Nobel Prize winning organisation knows fairly well its limitation in rooting out the draconian AFSPA, which Sharmila’s struggle is about, not only from Manipur but every inch of land in India where it is applied. For the political heads and top echelons of state bureaucrats, the meeting with the Amnesty team was a fairly routine boardroom affair where they have to merely sit through. Not for the first time, the power that be in the state repeated why AFSPA is in the national interest and dreadful consequences of freeing Sharmila to a visiting team.
Throwing out AFSPA will not be easy task, understands the Amnesty team too. But the battlefield cannot be abandoned due to the size or prowess of its enemies. In all rationality, and more so after the spiritless discussions during the last couple of days, the team is clear of the disinterest the state has in freeing Sharmila or making any commitment on extending the repeal of the draconian Act to the rest of the state. The only way to destroy the Act is not to wait for a miracle but for everyone to contribute its bits. Just as the directive from the NHRC did. The Amnesty India International can promise to use its international presence and brand popularity to highlight the cause of Sharmila and the evilness of parts of the Act. The fight for removal of AFSPA is Himalayan and let us have no doubt about it. The support for scraping of the Act had come from the mouths of Union ministers, the law makers and the judiciary. Yet, all had succumbed to the might of the wishes of the Indian Army. We are all trying to mow down a mountain with tooth-picks in our hands and a nauseating sense of impotence. But, in the words of Amnesty founder Peter Benenson ‘Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done.’