Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

  • SumoMe

India is known as the ‘land of miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of “Incredible India” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be revoked. The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958 (enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. However, it’s AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole cause of terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one amongst thousands of victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army raped us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things…they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for a mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still doesn’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina Kaif’s new boyfriend is apparently more important news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’…it has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?

In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom Sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…that’s another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The people of the north-east are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India.Interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peacefully at night”, they argue. So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced…but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on a roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

Devika Mittal

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