Who, in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, will not be moved at the disrespect and neglect of Manipur’s daughter and Iron Lady, Irom Sharmila, who has been struggling to uphold human rights in the states through the Father of the Nation’s path of Ahimsa and Satyagrah?
Only those who have no regard for democracy, non violence, harmony, tolerance and humanity he epitomized throughout the freedom struggle he led against the British rule in India.Manipur is now ill – famed for incessant fake encounters with insurgents and wanton killings of innocent citizens perpetrated by security forces in the name of self defence. A horrendous incident, for instance, was the killing of 9 innocent civilians by security men within the campus of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences & Hospital, Imphal on the 6th of June, 1995 when security forces, being enraged by gunshots allegedly by militants,randomly shot at the patients’ parties after the real culprits had already fled the spot. There were vehement public outcries against the incidents from time to time but so frequent were such incidents that they gradually lost the sting to excite the common people.
However, November 2nd of 2000 marked a turning point with the emergence ofIrom Sharmila in Manipur’s history of struggle for human rights. On this day, some security men suffered casualties in an encounter with a handful of rebels at Malom. They lost their sense of being public protectors and were flung into a fury, shot whomever they saw and mercilessly killed ten innocent civilians in their wanton spree. Utterly shocked at the gruesomely atrocious crime, the young girl Sharmila resolutely embarked on her fast unto death campaign demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 and restoration of human rights in Manipur as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Her relentless, non – violent struggle for the cause of human rights and peace has now stretched into ten long years.
Sharmila has thus become the personification of courage, sacrifice and non – violence while struggling for the noble cause of humanity, undoubtedly with no parallel in human history. She has been honoured with the Gwanju Award of South Korea, Maliyamma Award (2009) of the Maliyamma Foundation of Kerala and the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Aard (2010) of the Indian Institute of Planning & Management. No wonder, even the Mahatma would have been thrilled with this decade – long feat of the Iron Lady. But, behold! The Government of her own native state of Manipur has been treating her as nothing less than a nuisance and putting this great soul of Manipur in confinement on the charge of attempting to commit suicide. Even worse, to the Government of India, Sharmila is simply a non – entity and her struggle a non issue.The AFSPA obviously provides extraordinary power to the security personnel but none the less, it is not a supra – constitutional law which permits them to perpetrate random killings, rape women and violate the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution which ensures dignity of the individual. It is only through the abuse of this Act that the security men incessantly commit such crimes even in spite of the historic protest of Irom Sharmila.
The 17th Assam Rifles arrested the girl Th. Manorama on the night of the 10th of July 2004 from her house and charged her of being involved in insurgency activities but abandoned her after torture, rape and murder in open violation of human rights. Had she been tried and punished duly under the law, the armed forces would have been praised.
The AFSPA Act was invoked in Manipur in 1978 to contain secessationist movements. However, the efficacy of the use, or overuse, of this law has been thoroughly belied in the sense that, in spite of repressive measures through the abuse of the draconian law, there has been increasing growth and multiplicity of the insurgent outfits resulting in increasingly unwieldy conflict situation. It is thus evident that the effect of the AFSPA is rather highly toxic, let alone remedial for insurgency. Even the top brass of the Indian Army have, after their retirement, viewed that the revolt cannot be resolved with the use of arms.Despite this, the Government still continues to ignore such truthful findings and opinions and the security forces carry on with fake encounters, killing of innocent people and raping of women more than before.
A young pregnant woman Rabina Devi and a youth Sanjit Singh who was buying medicine for his ailing father was killed on the 23rd of July 2009 by the Manipur Police in the heart of Imphal Bazar during a fake encounter. The incident was vividly reported on by Tehelka magazine with undoubtable photo evidence as subsequently confirmed by the CBI.
The AFSPA, or any other law for that matter, makes no sense when they are abused and unlawful acts are blatantly committed by law enforcing agencies. True to the great ideals of Mahatma Gandhi for a free India, the world’s greatest democracy as so called now, the AFSPA should be rolled back without further delay. This should befittingly happen without further delay under the proud leadership of India’s present conscience keeping President, Pratiba Devi Singh Patil and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Let Irom Sharmila get a new lease on life to uphold rights and Mahatma’s ideals.
With his matchless weapon of Ahimsa aand Satyagraha, Gandhi disarmed the masses and ultimately won the hearts of the British and won freedom. The Gandhian values are now being replicated by Sharmila and has thus been openly devalued by both the Central and State Government. It strikes this author very often that, India could have never got her independence from British rule in spite of a thousand Gandhis’ struggles if the British happened to be endowed with similar perception and morality of Independent India’s ruling elite. It is lamentable that the mainland India’s intelligentsia of today simply do not have the liberal thoughts their colonial counterparts had more than 60 years ago.
Irom Sharmila, Manipur’s torch bearer of peace and human rights continues to languish in confinement, still being misunderstood, misinterpreted and neglected. May God save her life and awaken India to her call without further delay, lest the chapter of her struggle for human rights becomes a blot in Indian history, condemned by the liberal world. An unfortunate happening to the life of Sharmila, a true follower of the Mahatma, who has been on a decade long fast only for the cause of human rights and peace shall certainly give birth to an India being despised and hated by the whole world. Both the State and Union Governments shall be demeaned with an ignoble name in Indian History.