Imphal, Oct 21: Come November 2, human rights crusader Irom Sharmila Chanu will clock ten years of steadfast fight demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act,1958 from Manipur, if not from the whole the country. Her struggle has been against suppression, denial, exploitation and violation of basic human rights to live in a peaceful world free from violence. Mahatma Gandhi has become synonymous with non-violence in modern India influencing his brand of movement the world over, but Sharmila befits some short of post-modern reincarnate of the modern Gandhi. To mark the day, Just Peace Foundation has a chain of events up its sleeves in the run up to November 2.
Earlier, writer-activist Arundhati Roy assured that she would come to Imphal to join the November 2 event with Irom Sharmila but due to her mother’s indisposed, she has cancelled her programme. However, Just Peace Foundation informed Newmai News Network that Justice (retired) Jeevan Reddy will come to participate the November 2 programme in Imphal.
On November 2000, Assam Riffles had unleashed reign of terror by indiscriminately gunning down 10 civilians in what later came to be known as ˜Malom Massacre’ at Malom near Tulihar Airport , Imphal. The aftermath of the killing is poignant in more ways than one. The people had awoken to the gross insecurity of life sanctioned by Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958. More telling than that, an unassuming but sturdy woman called Irom Sharmila Chanu had silently pledged to redeem people, especially victims of the Act (in Manipur and elsewhere) by going on a fast-until-death until such time as the Act is totally repealed. To this day, she survives by nasal feeding, standing tall to her pledge and sticking to her guns steadfastly.
Ironically, a criminal case of attempt to commit suicide has been indicted against the lone marathon Manipuri crusader and lodged as ˜high security prisoner’, like Burma ‘s democracy campaigner Aung Sang Suu Kyi, in Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS), Porompat in Imphal.
The Act was promulgated by Union Home ministry in 1958 as something indispensable in the arsenal of the Armed Forces who had to operate in hostile environment. Little did it know that the Act was to become one of the most effective arms in the hands of the Armed Forces to eliminate suspects summarily without the fear of being judged, for the Act sanitized any scope to judicial recourse by victims of Army’s arbitrary exploits. While it was introduced in the Parliament, an institutional moratorium after 6 months of operation was guaranteed. For the last 52 years, however, the Armed Forces have been enjoying an immunity under the patronage of the Act to arrest, detain, and even kill civilians, to search and destroy properties, all these on mere suspicion. Later on, Kashmir was also brought under the purview of the Act.
To get an idea of the gravity let loose by the murderous Act, Human Rights Alert’s executive director Babloo Loitongbam may be suitably evoked: During the last 52 years since AFSPA was enforced, around 500 people were shot dead in Manipur every year on the average without conducting any sort of trial.
Enforced disappearances’, extra-judicial killings, torture, rape and arbitrary detention have been routinely reported.
Even as ground zero (Manipur) of the movement against the infamous Act still buys time and are mulling over the idea or possibility of repealing the Act, States like Anurachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland have unanimously resolved for its repeal. Not repealing the Act is another matter, Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh apparently hinted in his recent public address of the possibility of re-imposing the Act from seven segments of Imphal municipality areas from where the Act had ceased to remain effective following public outcry in 2004.
It is not a co-incidence that a crusader with a single lofty vision of getting her country and her people rid off the murderous Act had to germinate from within the soil of Manipur. Over 25,000 Manipuri lives have been sacrificed at the altar of AFSPA since its introduction in the Indian Parliament in 1985. To the average Manipuris on the streets, the Act had not appeared to challenge the essence of their being, but to Sharmila, it was everything that a democracy was not. The Act was untenable vis-Ã -vis the principle of democracy that we so cherish as the foundation of our nation. The rights to life, property and personal security of the modern democratic governments have been selectively limited to certain section of the people and to certain region of the country. She once said that her fight is not against one government and definitely not for one community, it is against those governments where such archaic law still persists, and for all those who are victims of arbitrary laws. She is in every sense a universalistic humanist.
Irom Sharmila’s struggle and objective have been lapped up by intellectuals who interrogate if India is dealing sincerely with Manipur or is it a colonial ploy to balkanize and instigate violence in the region so as to make it into a buffer zone against which stand the separatists of the region. Babloo says that if Sharmila dies without achieving her goal; insurgent organizations’ claim to Indian Government’s insincerity will find credence.
This is reason enough for a local human rights watchdog Just Peace Foundation (JPF), who has been giving unstinting support to Sharmila’s crusade against AFSPA. JPF, in partnership with local civil society organizations have initiated a countdown fete Hope, Peace and Justice, leading to the ˜one decade’ of unyielding struggle and human endurance, marking Sharmila’s unwavering fight. The eventful fete will start November 2 extending till November 6, interspersed with cultural events and seminars. On October 24, JPF will go on a ‘run-up-to-the-fete-day’ rally supported by All Manipur Rickshaw Pullers’ Association. October 31 has ˜spot painting’ competition at D M College campus. On the inaugural day of November 2, around 14 celebrated artists have been roped in to artistically depict Sharmila’s in their paintings which will go up on exhibition at Jawaharlal Nehru Dance Academy , Imphal. November 3 and 4 will witness intellectual seminars in its attempt to chart out a roadmap for future struggles.
On November 5, a local band, Tapta, with various other performing invitees, will enthrall a live crowd at Bheighachandra Open Air Theater (BOAT), Imphal. The grand finale of ˜Hope’ will witness all communities (broadly Meitei-Muslim-Tribals) coming together in a mass-prayer meeting asking G/gods/goddesses/ to intervene.