Irom Sharmila solidarity campaign growing in India
The iron lady of Manipur, Ms Irom Sharmila Chanu of Manipur is one of the civil rights activists in India better known for her relentless campaign for the the repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Irom Sharmila has been on has been on hunger strike since November 2, 2000 demanding that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA). She has refused food and water for more than 500 weeks, making her the longest hunger striker in the world.
She caught the imagination of the nation on October 2, 2006, when she held hunger strike at the historic Jantar Mantar, New Delhi and was joined by the students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens. She was arrested by the Delhi police for attempting suicide.
Since then support to her is growing steadfastly. On June 25, 2011, a candle light solidarity prayer was held at the Rajghat New Delhi where approximately 200 people participated from all walks of life.
It is part of this growing support that Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign is being launched in India and under it various programmes and action are being organized through out the country.
The programmes organized under the banner 'Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign. have already begun from Oct 2, ( birthday of Mahatma Gandhi) across states of India and would culminate on Dec 10, 2011. As a part of this campaign a Srinagar to Imphal journey and national signature campaign is also being planned.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) continues to be the most potent repressive tool of the Indian state that empowers even a non commissioned officer of the armed forces to kill on mere suspicion and provide legal immunity from prosecution, thereby causing untold misery and agony among the peoples of the affected regions.
The imposition of AFSPA is synonymous to heavy militarization in the states where it is promulgated leading to gross civil and political rights violations including enforced disappearances, extra-judicial execution, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, arbitrary arrest and detention.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a colonial legacy used against Mahatma Gandhi, was promulgated initially in the Naga areas of Assam (later divided between 4 states) and later in Mizoram, initially in parts of Manipur and later in all of Manipur.
The Ordinance after a brief discussion in the Parliament was endorsed and got the status of Act on August 18, 1958, despite stiff resistance from various quarters who challenged it as a martial and draconian law.
Since then it has been in force in one part or the other of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Jammu and Kashmir (since 1991).
Even though continuation of the 'disturbed area' status under the AFSPA in many part of the country is illegal in view of the violation of the mandatory six monthly periodic review directed by Supreme Court in its 1997 Judgement, there is no respite from this draconian law.
This law is more draconian than its predecessor ordinance used by the British to suppress the Quit India Movement. In the pretext of controlling insurgency, this Act has only intensified the insurgency in the region and legitimised thousands of gross human rights violations like rape, torture, murder and “disappearances” of innocent people in the North East and J&K.
The democratic movements in the Northeast states of India and the Jammu and Kashmir have consistently demanded the repeal of the Act and demilitarisation for decades but their repeated plea has fallen on the deaf ears and and nothing has so far been done to check the state sponsored injustices being perpetrated.
It is in this context Irom Sharmila struggle against Armed Forces Special Powers Act, has become synonymous with the cause. It amazing to see her conviction and courage to take on the might of the Indian state.
Although Sharmila is leading the Manipur people’s movement but her popularity over the years has catapulted her to the national stage. It's her sheer grit and determination that has made her a national icon. She occupies the same space as that Anna Hazare has on corruption, Medha Patkar on Narmada Bacho and similar civil rights activists
It therefore important for all the freedom loving people who care for human rights and human values in this country to render support to 'Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign and make it a success.
It wont be improper to mention that Irom Sharmila is one of the faces better known to us, but she is not the only one, there are many more like her who have taken up this cause and deserve salutation.
Here one has to acknowledge the names like; Mukta Srivastava , GG Parikh, Sukla Sen, Daniel Mazgoankar, Asad, Shimanshu, Suhas Kolhekar, Simpreet Singh, Jatin Desai, Guddi S.L who have put up a brave front and has taken up this cause.
One can only wish good luck and best wishes those who are campaigning for the repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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