‘Court kutcheri’ Rap for Irom Sharmila #Raptivism #Protest #AFSPA


NEW DELHI, May 23, 2013

 

Sowmiya Ashok

Activists in support of Irom Sharmila hold a music satyagraha outside the Patiala house court complex in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: V.V.Krishnan
Activists in support of Irom Sharmila hold a music satyagraha outside the Patiala house court complex in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: V.V.Krishnan
TOPICS

Failure of democracy in Manipur could spell doom for entire country: activist

A Mumbai-based rapper and an alternative jazz duo, wearing garlands, carrying guitars, and accompanied by students and trade unionists — this motley group, which gathered on the lawns of the Patiala House Courts Complex early on Wednesday, attracted questions from the Intelligence Bureau, warranted notes in a police diary and brought in curious bystanders.

The usually laidback morning hours at the court complex were replaced by a “peaceful, non-violent open air jam” to support Irom Sharmila Chanu at her next Delhi trial. It was another matter that, a few hours later, Metropolitan Magistrate Akash Jain postponed the recording of prosecution evidence in a case against the rights activist to August 30, after Ms. Sharmila could not appear in court.

The piercing sounds of the trumpet in Aditi Veena’s hands announced the beginning of the ‘Musical Jam’ for which invites went out on social networking sites as early as mid-April. With 700 confirmed attendees on Tuesday night, the musicians were slightly taken aback at the initial sparse turnout — 15 persons — at half-past-eight. “We don’t know why we don’t have more people here but we are in need of some enlightenment, some illumination….,” said Mark Aranha, who, along with Aditi, forms the jazz duo Ditty & Mark.

A few songs later and the venue shifted from the garden inside the court complex to the footpath outside the main gate — so the media could take part as well. The venue change also prompted freelance rapper Ashwini Mishra aka ‘A-List’ to render Iron Lady, which he said had been a ‘work-in-progress’ for over a year. “That is right. It is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act… it is time for the people to take the power back…” he rapped, a year after he got back to the art-form after a sabbatical. “My second innings, so to speak, has been much more political,” he said.

The intent was a peaceful satyagraha which was in “no way anti-Army, anti-India or anti-security forces” but one which believed that “human rights is sacred.” But on the footpath outside the courts, the clash of class and language were palpable. “Everything is in English from the lyrics to the placards. How will anyone who walks past know what is going on?” commented a bystander.

It was trade union activist Alok Kumar’s first ‘musical protest,’ which he admitted made him uncomfortable but at the same time opened up new ways of doing things. “We are, in a way, positive about the gathering but this kind of performance has the potential to alienate people,” he observed. “We should be looking at a new form of art which can create a dialogue among people.”

A member of the North-East Forum for International Solidarity, Mr. Kumar felt it was important to understand the art form being presented and make it more context-specific.

“More and more people should know and relate to the issue. Failure of democracy in Manipur could create a condition where democracy can be killed in India.”

 

Recording of evidence in case against Irom Sharmila pushed to 30 Aug #AFSPA #Vaw


May 22, 2013New Delhi: A Delhi court on Friday fixed 30 August for recording of prosecution evidence in a case against rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu for allegedly attempting suicide during her fast-unto-death in New Delhi in 2006.

The Manipuri activist has been on a fast for over 12 years demanding repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in her home state.

Irom Sharmila. ReutersIrom Sharmila. Reuters

Metropolitan Magistrate Akash Jain, who had earlier scheduled the matter for Wednesday for recording testimony of prosecution evidence, fixed the matter for 30 August after 40-year-old Sharmila could not appear in the court.

The court allowed the plea of Sharmila’s counsel who sought her exemption from personal appearance for today.

Earlier on March 4, the court had put the rights activist on trial after she had refused to plead guilty for the offence of attempting to commit suicide (Section 309 of IPC).

If convicted, Sharmila, who is out on bail in this case, faces a maximum jail term of one year.

Popularly known as the “Iron Lady”, Sharmila had earlier said her’s was a non-violent protest. She has been on fast since 2000.

She had rejected the charge that she had attempted suicide in 2006 and had told the court, “I do not want to commit suicide. Mine is only a non-violent protest. It is my demand to live as a human being. I love life. I do not want to take my life but I want justice and peace.”

While framing charges, the court had said, “It is alleged against you (Sharmila)…that you on October 4, 2006 at about 8 PM sat at Jantar Mantar on fast unto death uptil 11.30 pm on 6 October, 2006 and refused to get your medical check up and thereby, committed an act with an intention or knowledge that under such circumstances that death may be caused and thereby, committed an offence under Sec 309 of IPC.”

PTI

 

Don’t You Have A Sharmila Within You?


writetoirom

 

By Ravi Nitesh

03 May, 2013
Countercurrents.org

When you talk about her, you automatically relate yourself with her, with her pain and struggle, with all the sufferings of her and this association happens without force, it is because somewhere your soul is same as her or as any other human being. This association with someone’s pain and sufferings is based on the very nature of humanity because humanity is a virtue of being human and regardless of specific identity.

The continuous demand of Irom Sharmila through a non violent protest under which she adopted path of hunger protest and observing it since last 12 years, is itself a struggle that needs lot of power and self belief and self motivation. It is all towards your fight as an individual for the objective of welfare of a large group who are associated with you with the relation of humanity. When you write about her, when you hear about her and when you talk about her, its all about your contribution also in a larger struggle for the sake of justice. We all know about the cause for which she is on hunger protest. It is for the better administration, a rule of justice, a peaceful environment. The rule against which she is on protest is a draconian law in real terms. There were hundreds of examples where it can be proved that this rule named ‘armed forces special powers act’ violated the rights and attacked on humanity. She through her protest dedicated herself towards sacrifice as a protest. Her sacrifice is actually not about suicide (as claimed by rule of law of India), instead it is towards enriching the life of self and others with building a safe environment of living , of living with dignity as in true sense life without dignity and humanity is actually no life. We all must have to live our life for such causes in our own areas.

If you will see closely, you will understand that you too have same spirit the Sharmila has. When you will think, you will find that there is an automatic respect in your soul for her. You must had experience of your own struggle that you ever fought for a right cause at your home, school or work place and this fight of your life , though , you might suffered during your fight but it is sure that you had realized the need for this fight and the satisfaction after following your inner voice. If you would left the option to fight then you might feel guilty of not doing anything. It happens with everyone, our hearts sometime tell us to help someone, to fight something, to shout on , to raise our voice, to make our people and government more effective, and on the next instant, we again back to our life. Sharmila had the same feelings and emotions that you have, she is as like you as you are for yourself, she is a sister, daughter and fellow citizen. The only difference between you and Sharmila is that she fought and struggled for the cause for a long time and she did not come back to normal life. She became so motivated that she decided to live with dignity. Her soul became so pure for a specific purpose that she get diverted from all worldly affairs. It is the time for all of us, to identify a Sharmila within us and to think and to associate with the great cause of her. It is a fight that she is not fighting for herself instead for all of us who believe in justice.

It is a time to identifying our potential in our hearts and souls that make ourselves a follower of truth. It is a time to think about future generations and to contribute in building an atmosphere of fearless minds. Its not only fight of Manipur or other NE states or J&K, its not only fight of those who lost their persons in resulted this rule, instead it is a demand by the persons who believe in humanity and rights and justice for all. We all are living Sharmila in our heart because we are determined to support the Repeal AFSPA cause and moreover to the all and any cause that can enrich humanity and that can remove ill effects of present rules imposed by society or government at any place.

Ravi Nitesh is a Petroleum Engineer, Founder- Mission Bhartiyam, Core Member- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign follow on twitter:www.twitter.com/ravinitesh Blog: www.ravinitesh.blogspot.com

 

#India- Criminalising People’s Protests #Iromsharmila #AFSPA #Vaw


iromsmile

EPW Vol – XLVIII No. 14, April 06, 2013 | Anand Teltumbde

The manner in which Irom Sharmila‘s demand for the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been handled by the Indian state is indicative of its intent to further narrow the scope for democratic protest, even opposition that is centred on the right to life itself. With such actions, the state is subtly communicating to the people that there is no democratic option left in the country.

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.

– Howard Zinn

Public protests signify that democracy is alive and well. Whatever its form, the essence of democracy is the space it provides for people to voice their protest against the government. However, while India has managed to flaunt for decades that it is the world’s largest functional democracy, it has systematically decimated such space for the masses. Today, this space has been symbolically reduced to small designated pockets in every state capital where aggrieved people can gather and shout to their hearts’ content only so that they can hear themselves. Not much unlike jails, with their barbed wire fences and narrow openings guarded by a thick posse of armed policemen, the authorities do not let public protest infect the people at large. The maximum the people protesting at these places can reach is the police sub-inspector seated there to receive their memorandums. Indian democracy has not, however, been content with this general strangulation of democratic space; it often takes offensive against the protesters by slapping criminal charges on them. Examples are legion but the recent proceedings against Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur, who was brought to Delhi to face trial for her “crime of attempting suicide” at the Jantar Mantar best highlights this trend.

Sharmila’s Crime

Sharmila’s protest began with her indefinite fast on 3 November 2000, a day after 10 persons were shot down by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian paramilitary forces operating in Manipur, while waiting at a bus stop just outside Imphal. The incident later came to be known as the “Malom Massacre”. Within days, Sharmila was taken by the police, and since then, she is being force-fed a liquid concoction of nutrients in a hospital, which serves as her prison. After every year in detention, she is released for a day and rearrested for attempting to commit suicide, because she refuses to call off her fast until the government repeals the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which is in force in Manipur, Assam, Nagaland and parts of Arunachal Pradesh besides, Jammu and Kashmir. Now in its 13th year, her protest is the longest hunger strike in recorded history, which has shaken the entire world but failed to sensitise the Indian rulers. On the contrary, they chose to actuate their penal machine and charged her with an “attempt to commit suicide”, which is unlawful under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

The AFSPA against which Sharmila reiterated her protest to the metropolitan magistrate, Delhi however continues on the statute. This draconian Act that giving the army the unquestionable powers to shoot to kill, arrest and search or even destroy property on mere suspicion and enacted as a short-term measure to allow the deployment of the army in India’s north-eastern Naga Hills, has been in existence for over five decades. According to a report entitled “Manipur: Memorandum on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions” by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the United Nations, altogether 1,528 people, including 31 women and 98 children were killed in fake encounters by the security forces in Manipur alone between 1979 and May 2012. Of these, 419 were killed by the Assam Rifles, while 481 were killed by combined teams of Manipur Police and the central security forces. These are gory statistics but they do not tell the human tragedy that befell entire generations that grew up under the shadow of the gun. It is a usual sight in Manipur to find even school kids sitting in protest against the atrocities by the armed forces.

Logic of the State

The government cites the ongoing insurgency in the hilly state to explain its stand against the repeal of AFSPA. According to its argument, nearly 15 militant outfits are active in the state and in the period between 2007 and 2011, over 1,500 people were killed in militancy-related violence, among them were 1,011 militants and 406 civilians. This argument itself should prompt a simple question, if the army, with a free hand, has not been able to control the so-called insurgency over five decades, what is the justification for the Act? It may even be argued that the insurgency, given the government’s own statistics, has increased during the currency of the Act. This is because the excesses committed by the armed forces with impunity alienate people and impel them to take up the gun. If one dispassionately looks at the north-eastern states, comprising about 7% of India’s total area and 3.7% of its population, bigger than many countries but devoid of any notable development, one cannot but get a feel that they are like a colony governed by the armed might of India. The Constitution does provide for emergency clauses but they are meant to be short-lived. The arguments the government and its army establishment proffer for continuing with AFSPA are, interestingly, the same as the arguments advanced when the 1942 ordinance was enacted in order to keep the British Empire intact.

The same logic extends to the protesting people in mainland India. There are scores of draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, the National Security Act, and various provisions in the penal code, like “sedition”, which continue to mock at our claim of being a democracy. Given the increasing divide between the majority of people mired in abominable poverty and powerlessness and a miniscule minority with all the pelf and power, people’s protests are a natural outcome. During the initial decades of post-Independence India, when the ruling classes had not yet consolidated themselves, these protests were responded to by the state with colonial decency. But by the mid-1970s, an oppressive Emergency was declared, and after a spell of political turmoil, the country entered the neo-liberal era that ideologically trashed social protests and legitimated the oppressive social Darwinist ethos of the rulers. The enforcement of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1985 succeeded by the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in 2002 and thereafter UAPA in 2004 during this era, duly aided by global “security syndrome” unleashed by 9/11, should be seen in that light.

The much-maligned Maoist movement is essentially a public protest, notwithstanding its mode of expression, as acknowledged by the government occasionally, but the latter has chosen to criminalise it, calling it “the biggest internal security threat” and waging a full-fledged war against it. Today, it has begun to do the same to civil rights activists, trashing them as Maoist supporters. These activists along with many legal luminaries have been cautioning that the ordinary laws if operated equitably are capable of tackling any kind of criminal activity. The extraordinary laws with draconian provisions create a false notion of security but there is no empirical evidence that they really work. Invariably, they have operated as oppressive tools against innocent people and thereby aggravated the very problem which they were supposed to solve. It is the perceived injustice of the state that impels people to extremity. The paranoia of the ruling classes is proving myopic in ignoring the grave consequences to democracy.

Grave Consequences

The saga of Irom Sharmila and the Manipuri people struggling against AFSPA will surely leave an indelible mark on our democratic credentials. What could be a more intense protest by an ordinary citizen of this country within the constitutional framework than hers? Could there be a more intense expression of public anguish than the prominent women of Manipur disrobing themselves in front of the Army Headquarters and shouting “Indian army rape us”, this in the wake of the rape and murder of Thangiam Manorama in 2004? Can there be a more innocent movement than Anna Hazare’s? But none has been able to shake the power-drunk government. On the contrary, the government has variously criminalised all these protests.

There are numerous other protests happening all over the country: the recent protests against the anti-nuclear power plants at Jaitapur (Maharashtra) and Koodankulam (Tamil Nadu); spontaneous protests of dalits in Maharashtra after the Khairlanji murders; people’s nationwide protests against the Right to Education Act; the ongoing protests against corruption and black money; and those against the violation of human rights, to name just a few. All these have been spontaneous people’s protests. All of them have faced criminalisation; many of them, brutal assaults. It is being subtly communicated that there is no democratic option left in the country. The arrogance of the political class has reached the level where it defiantly challenges people to seek solutions through elections, which have been reduced to a game of money and muscle power. It is very well known that this game is beyond people’s means.

Should people mutely suffer the oppression of their representatives who behave as if they have a licence to exploit them till the next election? Even after five years, what hope does the system hold for ordinary people? The defective game also stands “fixed” by the political class, which virtually bars entry of anyone outside the club. The Association for Democratic Reforms has documented data on the personal wealth and the criminal cases of the members of the political class, which exposes their character. The entire ruling class has consolidated itself against the people. It may demonstrate differences within its ranks before the public to gain legitimacy but the fact remains that its members are all one and the same. Indeed, people are left with no democratic option and hope. It is this state of “optionlessness” and hopelessness that would inevitably push people to unconstitutional methods and, as Ambedkar warned, blast off the structure of democracy our founding fathers so laboriously built.

 

#Irom sharmila- Starving to live, not die #hungerstrike #AFSPA


March 30, 2013 , The Hindu

Goutham Shivshankar
Suhrith Parthasarathy

TOPICS
When the Supreme Court has recognised the right to go on hunger strike, why is Irom Sharmila’s protest against impunity of the armed forces a criminal act?

Over the past 12 years, Irom Sharmila Chanu has carried on an inconceivable hunger strike, which has seen her body wither and her skin turn pale. During this period, she has emerged as the face of the civilian resistance to the immunity, and impunity, granted by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to the army in Manipur. The Indian state has done its part to disfigure that face, by exhibiting either an inability or unwillingness to meet Sharmila’s demands. Today, it is impossible to think of Sharmila without recalling images of the feeding tube that has been forcibly thrust down her nose to keep her alive. However, the repeal of AFSPA and justice for the 10 civilians who were shot dead in November 2002 by the Assam Rifles in supposed retaliation to an attack by insurgents in Malom, Manipur — which triggered Sharmila’s protest — still remain elusive. Instead, Sharmila’s dissent expressed via her fast unto death has repeatedly been viewed as criminal.

Sharmila has put the Indian state in a peculiar position, by reconfiguring the dynamics of power through a public sacrifice of her body. Should the state, as it has done so far, view her indefinite fast through the lens of criminality and consider it “an attempt to commit suicide,” when Sharmila has unequivocally asserted her love of living? Or is it incongruous to do so, especially when the Supreme Court, in its recent and much-hailed intervention in the Ram Lila Maidan protests against corruption, has recognised that “hunger strike is a form of protest which has been accepted, both historically and legally in our constitutional jurisprudence”? In fact, Sharmila’s hunger strike is an area of stark legal vacuum. When there is a conflict between her freedom of expression and the Indian state’s interest, and perhaps duty, in keeping her alive, can a balance between these conflicting ends be struck without criminalising Sharmila’s actions?

The history

Examples of hunger strikes used as an expression of dissent are copious; the suffragettes used them in their campaign seeking the vote for women in England during the early 20th century. Hunger strikes around the world have typically, though not exclusively, been waged by prisoners. Such was the case when some imprisoned Irish Republicans famously went on a hunger strike in 1981 to protest British rule of Ireland, leading to the death of Bobby Sands and nine others. Prisoners tend to use hunger strikes as a mode of protest, either to advocate a cause disagreeable to the state or to express their dissent against what they believe to be a wrongful conviction. In the former category fall cases like that of Marion Wallace Dunlop, a pioneering suffragette who was sent to prison for printing an extract from the Bill of Rights on the wall of St. Stephen’s Hall in the House of Commons. In prison, Dunlop commenced a hunger strike to continue her protest seeking the right of women to vote. In the latter category fall prisoners like William Coleman, who has been on a hunger strike lasting almost five years in a jail in Connecticut, U.S., to protest what he believes to be his wrongful conviction. Since the global trend has been for persons already imprisoned to resort to a hunger strike, this mode of protest has usually been viewed abroad as a prisoners’ rights issue. The state’s response of force-feeding prisoners has been considered by some as being tantamount to torture and an unacceptable intrusion in the autonomy of the prisoner, akin to rape.

However, India’s own experience with hunger strikes, which has been very well documented, has shown that viewing the issue through a prisoners’ rights framework is ill-advised. Our freedom fighters, Mahatma Gandhi in particular, developed and perfected this non-violent form of protest as a facet of satyagraha, and although several hunger strikes were carried out by freedom fighters during periods of incarceration, the resort to this mode of protest has never been an exclusive domain of the imprisoned. For instance, Potti Sreeramulu, a freedom fighter and Gandhian, fasted to his death, in seeking the creation of a separate State of Andhra Pradesh in independent India. The Narmada Bachao Andolan movement witnessed hunger strikes in 2002 to protest the construction of dams over the Maan River in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh.

More recently, Anna Hazare and his associates carried on hunger strikes against corruption. All of these protests were, and continue to be, carried on for the large part, outside the walls of prison. For this reason, a prisoners’ rights framework may, by itself, be insufficient to view the legality of hunger strikes in India.

Attempted suicide?

An alternative way to analyse hunger strikes, especially fasts unto death, is through the framework of a constitutional right to die. In India, not a little morbidly, this argument seems to have reached a “dead end.” Although the Supreme Court in P. Rathinam v. Union of India (1994) initially asserted that the Indian constitutional guarantee of a fundamental right to life carries with it a fundamental right to die, subsequent decisions in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996) and Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011) overruled that view, and it is now conclusively established that Indian citizens do not have a fundamental right to die. In Gian Kaur, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises the “attempt to commit suicide” (i.e. the provision under which Sharmila has been charged, and previously convicted). In Shanbaug, the Supreme Court allowed only for a highly circumscribed right to approach courts to seek withdrawal of life support systems for patients in a permanent vegetative state. Thus, it appears futile to argue that Indian citizens have a right to fast unto death when, according to the apex court, they have no right to die. However, this does not automatically mean that the undertaking of fasts unto death is criminal or that one does not have a fundamental right to hunger strike of a definite period where there is no danger of death being caused. One may not have the right to do something, but to do it nonetheless needn’t be criminal.

In independent India, the resort to hunger strikes has usually, though with some exceptions (such as the hunger strike by prisoners within a jail), not been viewed through the lens of criminality. For instance, Potti Sreeramulu was never considered criminal or suicidal by the Indian state for his fatal hunger strike. Anna Hazare likewise has undertaken several indefinite hunger strikes for various causes, but has never been perceived as a criminal on this account. The most prominent example of the Indian state criminalising a fast unto death per se is that of Sharmila’s. If we really believe rape is as vile as we have recently claimed it to be, then would it be just to treat Sharmila’s strike against AFSPA, a law that shields rapists from prosecution, differently from Hazare’s strike against corruption? More importantly, would it be just for a society’s laws to selectively criminalise hunger strikes depending upon the objectives such strikes seek to achieve?

This brings us to the question of whether Sharmila’s case, and more generally fasts unto death, are appropriately viewed as “attempts to commit suicide” under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Any criminal offence, barring certain exceptions, requires the proof of a mens rea, or the existence of a guilty mind. Sharmila has been fasting not with an intention to die, but with an intention to achieve a desired result from the state. Her refusal to consume food or water can be criminalised only if she has acted in furtherance of a conscious endeavour to commit suicide. In the absence of such conscious endeavour, to accuse and prosecute her for an offence under Section 309 is misconceived.

Freedom to express

The questions of whether to treat Sharmila as criminal and whether the state should be allowed to force-feed her are distinct. As misguided as Sharmila’s prosecution may be, the question regarding the legality of nasally force-feeding her to keep her alive still remains open. The Supreme Court has, on the one hand, held that the threat of going on a hunger strike extended by Baba Ramdev at Ram Lila Maidan, cannot be termed illegal. Presumably, this right that the court spoke of flows from a citizen’s right to freedom of expression. That right is subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, decency, morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. If Sharmila’s fast unto death is essentially an exercise of her fundamental right to freedom of expression, the state, in force-feeding her, may presumably be acting in furtherance of its right to impose reasonable restrictions as permitted by our Constitution. However, force-feeding, even if conducted in a humane and largely non-intrusive manner, has been widely considered to be tantamount to torture. Even though the state might merely be imposing restrictions that are reasonable within the meaning of Article 19 of the Constitution, the measure might nonetheless be a violation of Sharmila’s right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

In our opinion, fasts unto death occupy an area of legal vacuum that offer no easy solutions. Should the state allow Sharmila to die and, in the process, abdicate its duty to protect life? Or must it resort to force-feeding her, even though such actions hit at the core of her bodily integrity? While neither offers a perfectly tailored legal solution, what is certain is that a balance ought to be struck between these starkly conflicting ends without criminalising Sharmila’s actions. For, to do so would be tantamount to stigmatising an exercise by a citizen of her right to freedom of expression in advocating a particular cause when other citizens have used the freedom in exactly the same manner without suffering prosecution, simply because they advocated causes of a different, and less complex, nature.

(The authors are advocates practising in the Madras High Court)

#India- I am Irom Sharmila #AFSPA #Vaw


March 16, 2013

The Other Half

KALPANA SHARMA, The Hindu

Sharmila’s story is extraordinary and bears retelling. Photo: AP
AP Sharmila’s story is extraordinary and bears retelling. Photo: AP

By focusing on individuals like Irom Sharmila, the cause or reason for protest is often forgotten. In this particular case, the cause — repeal of the AFSPA — is crucial.

She appears in our line of vision, and then disappears. When we see her, we remember. When we don’t, we forget.

When Irom Sharmila, that frail woman from Manipur, with a feeding tube taped to her nose, was asked to travel to Delhi earlier this month, it was “news”. Her name was in the newspapers, her image on television channels. Yet, how many people really knew why she had been brought to Delhi, why after six years had a court summoned her to face charges under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code for attempting to commit suicide?

In 2006, Sharmila travelled to Delhi for the first time in her life. In fact, it was the first time she sat in an airplane. Then she had travelled to Delhi by choice. She did so because she reckoned, and rightly so, that her voice would only be heard if she went to Delhi. And she was not wrong. As she sat at Jantar Mantar, continuing a protest that began on November 2, 2000 demanding the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Manipur, the “national” media paid heed to her voice, and relayed it to a wider audience.

And how did the authorities respond? By charging her for attempting to commit suicide and force-feeding her. Eventually, Sharmila returned to her hospital jail in Imphal, where she is forcibly fed through that tube in her nose. She has remained in that room, a year at a time. A court in Imphal charges her under the same section of IPC, imprisons her for a year, the maximum sentence, releases her, and then arrests her again when she refuses to break her fast. Every year, around this time, this little drama is enacted. The local press takes note; the national press generally ignores it. And Sharmila continues to protest.

Now, in addition to the court in Imphal, Sharmila has to face the court in Delhi. When she appeared earlier this month, she told the judge: “I love and respect life. I want the right to live as a human being. Mine is a non-violent protest to get the government to meet my demands.” This does not sound like a woman who wants to kill herself. Yet, the law says she does, because she will not eat. And so this case will also continue. And once again, on May 22, she will be brought to Delhi. And we will have another chance to remember who she is, what she stands for, and what she is asking.

Sharmila’s story is extraordinary and bears retelling. Several books have already been written about her, the latest by journalist Minnie Vaid titled, Iron Irom, Two Journeys. It is a slim book that recounts Sharmila’s journey and Vaid’s own journey into Manipur, a place “where the abnormal is normal”, as she aptly puts it. But even as Sharmila’s trials, determination and amazing courage are remembered, and lauded, one should not lose sight of the central issue over which she is so agitated.

In India, we elevate individuals and forget the cause. We need heroes and heroines, more so at a time of visual media. But in fixing on individuals, the issue, the cause, the reason for protest sometimes gets forgotten, or under-played.

In the case of Sharmila’s fast, the issue is crucial. AFSPA has been in force since 1958. The army insists it is essential; for the civilian population it means the denial of basic rights and nurtures a culture of impunity in everyone with power.

If you go to Manipur, you will understand why Sharmila will not relent. They do not have the freedom we take for granted. Nor the basic infrastructure. Daily life is incredibly difficult. There are shortages of every kind — water, electricity, fuel, food, medicines. Not for a week, or a month, but for years. Those of us living in so-called “undisturbed” areas do not have a clue what life is like for the ordinary Manipuri, someone who wants to lead a normal life, a peaceful one, without bomb blasts or armed men patrolling the streets or curfews or extra-judicial killings in broad daylight.

Manipuris escape this hardship by running away to our big cities. Thousands of them have joined the service sector. Does anyone ask them about Manipur? Do people even know they are from Manipur? People like them, living on the periphery, are constantly lectured about “integrating” with India. It is India and Indians who need to “integrate” with the northeast and Manipur and not the other way round.

Eight years ago, in 2005, the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee, set up to review AFSPA in Manipur by an earlier version of the government at the Centre, submitted its report. It recommended that AFSPA be withdrawn. The government paid no heed.

More recently, the Justice Verma Committee, set up after the Delhi gang rape, strongly recommended that the provision in AFSPA that grants armed forces personnel immunity from facing rape charges in a civilian court, be removed. Once again, this escaped a hearing-impaired government.

What will it take for the deafness of the government, and its obduracy, to give way to a listening ear and an open mind on the issue? How many Sharmilas will it take? Should all of us who care, who feel outraged at this state of affairs, decide to become Sharmilas?

 

Irom Sharmila Re-Arrested, Continues Her Fast Unto Death Demanding Repeal Of #AFSPA #Vaw


 

Irom Sharmila was released on Tuesday by the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court in Imphal East after completing one year imprisonment. She refused to give up her fast and was re-arrested by the Porompat police
Shazia Nigar

March 14, 2013

‘I will not adopt a re-conciliatory position. Nothing will change my stand and I will continue to fast until my demand is fulfilled,’ said Irom Sharmila. Photo: Ankit Agarwal

Iron LadyIrom Sharmila Chanu has been arrested once again on charges of attempted suicide. She has been on fast unto death for twelve years demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. The maximum punishment the charge is imprisonment up to one year.

Babloo Loitongbam, Human Right activist and an associate of Irom Sharmila said, “She was picked up from the site of protest at the Save Sharmila office in Imphal.”

Sharmila had been released on Tuesday by the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court in Imphal East after completing one year imprisonment. She refused to give up her fast and was re-arrested by the Porompat police. Before being produced to court, Sharmila was remanded to judicial custody until 26 March. She is currently in the security ward at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal.

Sharmila’s brother, Irom Singhajit said that a medical team showed up at the site of protest demanding a medical check-up that she denied. Police picked her up later at six in the evening. Singhajit said, “I meet her every fifteen days when she is produced in court. The family requires a special permission to see her. It takes one month for a permission to be granted.”

Commenting on her fast unto death in a recent interview with TEHELKA, Sharmila said, “Although it’s been over 12 years, I will not adopt a re-conciliatory position. Nothing will change my stand and I will continue to fast until my demand is fulfilled. Nothing will shake my resistance.”

Irom Sharmila has been fasting since November 2000 when ten civilians were killed in an alleged encounter by the Assam Rifles near Imphal airport. AFSPA was imposed in Manipur in 1980.

 

Government scared to grant me my fundamental rights: Irom Sharmila #AFSPA #Vaw


by  Mar 4, 2013, Firstpost

“The government will listen. It depends on the movement of the people because we are a democracy. What I want is peace and justice, not the administration of a government that uses violence as a means for their governance,” said a frail and emotional Irom Sharmila, addressing the media outside a Delhi Court, which has charged her with attempt to commit suicide. (Read full report here)

Sharmila continues to persevere with her more than 12-year long struggle for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFPSA). On a protest fast since 2000, she is force fed via tube at a government hospital in Imphal, Manipur, where she remains in custody and denied free access to her family, friends and supporters.

Sharmila has been charged by the Delhi court in a 2006 case that was booked against her by the Delhi Police after she declared a fast unto death from Jantar Mantar. Described as the Iron Lady of Manipur, Sharmila pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempt to commit suicide before the Delhi Court. The next date of hearing has been fixed for May 22.

On request by her lawyers, Sharmila was permitted by the Delhi Court to a five-minute interaction with the press.

PTIPTI

Responding to question regarding the government’s stand that repeal of the AFSPA depended on the Army’s assessment of the ground realities, Sharmila said, “The government and the Army are colluding to cheat the people. The government is of the people, by the people and for the people. The government should control the Army also.”

On whether she had requested the government to permit her family and supporters free access to her, she said, “They are so scared to give me my fundamental rights. I am also a social being. I am innocent woman who loves civilization.”

When asked whether she had faith in the legal system and the central government, she said, “I have in faith in God. God will also guide the wrong-doers. I will remind them that of their real responsibility as a leaders of a society.”

Reacting to a question on the setting up of the three-member commission headed by former Supreme Court Judge Justice Hegde, which has begun hearing cases of alleged extra-judicial killings by security forces, in Manipur, Sharmila said, “The government will remain adamant for the time being. The Jeevan Reddy committee has already recommended the repeal of this draconian law.”

Making a final statement, Sharmila said, “I’m following the non-violent principle of the Father of Nation. The government should not discriminate. As a leadership, they should behave unbiasedly…I have in faith in God. God will also guide the wrong-doers. I will remind them that of their real responsibility as a leaders of a society.”

The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is representing Sharmila in Delhi. Speaking to the press, Svetlana, one of her counsels, said, “Now the case will move into the trial stage. If she is unable to come because of her health conditions, we will move an application for exempting her from being present in court. We haven’t filed any application to move the trial to Manipur.”

Outside the Delhi Court, students and supporters staged a protest, shouting slogans seeking the repealing of the law.

Asked what their message to Sharmila was, former president of the Manipur Students Association Delhi, Seram Rojesh said,  “We are here to give solidarity to her. The police denied us permission to meet her. In this struggle, we want to show her that she is not alone. The world is with her. She has done nothing wrong. She is fasting for the right to a dignified life. But she has been charged with 309 of IPC. We are protesting the very idea of charging her.” Rojesh is also the coordinator of the Save Democracy, Repeal AFPSA Campaign.

 

Irom Sharmila -On hunger strike for 12 years , will continue


 

 

Irom Sharmila in India’s Manipur state is force-fed in detention, but refuses to give up protest against draconian Act.
Subir Bhaumik Last Modified: 08 Nov 2012, Al Jazeera 

Irom Sharmila has been demanding the repeal of a law that allows troops to act with impunity [AFP]

Frail and suffering after being on fast for more than 12 years, Irom Sharmila proclaims she will die on hunger strike unless India repeals the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) .

The AFSPA gives security forces sweeping powers,including the power to shoot people dead on mere suspicion, while operating in areas afflicted by rebellions – like in Sharmila’s Manipur state on India’s far eastern border with Myanmar (Burma).

“How can men in uniform enjoy such powers in a democracy which they so often misuse? This Act must be repealed if India  is serious about its democracy. Or else, I will continue my hunger-strike until I die,” says the frail Sharmila , who turned 40 on March 14 this year.

On November 2, 2000, troops of India’s elite counter-insurgency force Assam Rifles opened indiscriminate fire on a market at Malom near Manipur’s state capital Imphal. Ten civilians were killed on the spot – among them a 60-year-old woman and three teenage boys, one of whom had won the Prime Minister’s Award for Bravery.

The Assam Rifles forces were upset after one of Manipur’s more than a dozen rebel groups attacked one of their patrols – but the people they killed in retaliation were innocent civilians who had no involvement in the attack.

“That was a Thursday, the day I used to fast every week. I was so shocked by the massacre at Malom that I just decided to continue my fast unless the draconian law was repealed,” Sharmila said, lying on her bed in the Imphal hospital, where she is held in “judicial custody” and force-fed every day through a tube in her nose to keep her alive.

“This is a symbolic fight for the people of Manipur who have suffered so much at the hands of the security forces. Hundreds of our boys and girls have been killed on mere suspicion of being rebels. This is possible because the
AFSPA gives so much power to the security forces. This Act must go,” she said.

Brother Irom Singhajit Singh recalls that his sister had one last supper with pastries and sweets, then touched her mother’s feet to seek her blessings to begin the epic fast.

Popular weapon

Hunger strike has been a popular weapon of protest in India since Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, popularised it during the anti-colonial struggle. But nobody has been on fast longer than Sharmila.

Manipur has been ravaged by four decades of separatist insurgency, with close to a dozen groups involved in fighting Indian forces and, often, amongst themselves. Thousands have died – among them, many young men and women killed on mere suspicion of involvement with the rebel groups.

Once in a while, Manipur has erupted over such killings, as it happened eight years ago, when another young girl Thangjam Manorama was allegedly raped and shot by the Assam Rifles soldiers and left to die on a village road.

The Indian federal government set up a high power committee to look into the popular demand of scrapping the AFSPA, perhaps to pacify the people’s anger.

“The government has just one agenda now. To keep Sharmila alive , because if she dies, there may be an uproar.”

- Babloo Loithongbam, Human Rights activist

The five-member committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge Jeevan Reddy, unanimously recommended for repeal of the draconian AFSPA.

But under severe pressure from the Army and the para-military forces, the federal government backed off, even refusing to place the committee’s report for discussion in the parliament.

The Army says that it cannot operate against armed rebels unless covered by this AFSPA.

“Either keep the AFSPA and allow us to use it or don’t involve us in counter-insurgency operations. We will be happy to be back in our barracks,” says former Indian Army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury .

For the past 50 years, the Indian army and its para-military troops have battled scores of rebel groups in the country’s troubled Northeastern states, a region considered strategic by Delhi because it is hemmed in between Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Nepal and Bhutan.

Last year, a group of 25 civil rights activists from across the country, went on a long march from the rebellion-scarred state of Jammu and Kashmir all the way to Manipur on the India-Myanmar border to draw attention to Sharmila’s epic fast and the cause for which she has sacrificed her youth.

The protest march attracted global media attention and rights activists across the world came out to express solidarity with Sharmila’s epic hunger strike to demand scrapping of the controversial AFSPA.

But it had no effect on Delhi as the Indian government conveniently turned the other way, retaining the AFSPA and ignoring the march and the world’s longest hunger strike.

“The government has just one agenda now. To keep Sharmila alive, because if she dies, there may be an uproar,” says Manipur’s leading human rights activist Babloo Loithongbam.

The ‘Iron Lady of Manipur

Three days after she started her hunger strike, Irom Sharmila was arrested and charged with “attempting to commit suicide”. Since then, she has been force-fed through a tube in her nose. Every year, she is released once and then promptly re-arrested on the same charges and the routine goes on.

Back in her heavily-guarded hospital ward, Sharmila is unmoved and determined to carry forward her struggle.

“I fast until the AFSPA goes. I have not wasted 12 years of my life to back off. Either my people live with respect or I don’t eat,” says Irom Sharmila, now called the “Iron Lady of Manipur” for her historic feat.

Brother Singhajit remembers his sister as being “always different “.

“She was always modest with few friends, never liked to dress up or use jewellery. She read religious books, practiced yoga and naturopathy,” he says. “She has not changed a bit.”

In her years of hunger strike, Sharmila has won many awards, including one for lifetime achievement from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi has promised to take up her case before the United Nations.

“I will do my duty, I will do what I have to for my people, without really bothering what happens.”

- Irom Sharmila

Two Indian politicial parties, the Trinamul Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI(M-L), have supported Sharmila’s cause and her hunger strike, joining the chorus for scrapping the controversial AFSPA.

But while the Trinamul Congress rules the eastern state of West Bengal and has some lawmakers in northeastern states like Sharmila’s home state Manipur, the CPI(M-L) is on the margins of Indian politics.

In recent weeks, the chief minister of the troubled northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, who represents the regional party, National Conference, has pitched in to support Sharmila’s demand for scrapping the AFSPA.  Abdullah says the Act is often misused by security forces while fighting rebel groups and civilians end up as victims of their excesses.

But no major political party in India has so far come out in support of the “Iron Lady” who is making history by her unique protest.

That does not worry Sharmila much.

“I will do my duty, I will do what I have to for my people, without really bothering what happens,” says Sharmila.

AFSPA should be scrapped totally and not just from Manipur




November 2, 2012 by Imphal Free Press | 

IMPHAL, November 2: “Chittanranjan na thawaigi pontha pokhiba amadi Irom Chanu Sharmila na chahi taranithoi chara hel-lkpa” was organised today by the Apunba Nupi Lup Bishnupur.

The original venue of the function was supposed to be Bishnupur market, but due to permit issues, it was held at Yangoi Ningthou Yangoi Leima Shanglen, Bishnupur.

IFP Resident Editor speaking at Bishnupur on AFSPA on Friday

IFP Resident Editor speaking at Bishnupur on AFSPA on Friday

Resident Editor Imphal Free Press Irengbam Arun, Asst Prof Dept of Economic, MU Dr Chinglen Meisnam, author of Sharmila: A Mission of Peace Dr Oinam Kulabidhu spoke as resource persons.

Delivering his speech IFP Editor Irengbam Arun said that there are three events which would always identify with the struggle against AFSPA which are Sharmila’s 12 years long fast, Pebam Chittanranjan’s suicide and the women nude protest at Kangla gate.

Delivering awareness to the participating young students, he said, Manipur is within the democratic boundary of India where suspected individuals are caught by the police and are supposed to be produced before the court and punish accordingly.

He said that in Manipur, however the security personnel especially the Indian military forces are given extra immunity and act themselves as police and judge and sometime kills a person without any judgement.

He elaborated that this Act lending extra arms power to the Indian military treats the people of Manipur like animals which has resulted in the loss of many lives in Manipur.

The Editor was also of the opinion that the time has come for all to echo together against the Act and its total deletion from the country.

He said that if the Act is removed only from Manipur, then it will still be imposed in other states where the people will continue to suffer.

He also pointed out that Mahatma Gandhi had fought with Non Violence for freedom and that his five days of fast was affective while, Sharmila’s 12 years of fasting is yet to bear any fruit.

He concluded by saying that it is time for the people to really understand the threatening solution in Manipur and find a concrete solution.

Dr Chinglen Meisnam said that AFSPA is benefiting some people which he called the ‘profiteer of conflict’.

He said that this is a serious issue that all the people of Manipur must understand and participate.

He said that young generations of Manipur are lacking in understanding this crucial situation which will lead to short term gain and long term pain.

As part of the function a rally was also held from the function venue to Chittanranjan’s death spot at Bishnupur Bazar where floral tributes were paid.

The 10 innocent deceased family committee also organised floral tribute at the tomb of Malom massacre spot where 10 innocent people were gunned down while waiting for bus at Malom bus parking, Boroi Makhong.