Fast for Justice: For Repeal of AFSPA

On November 2, 2000, Indian security forces gunned down 10 innocent people standing at a bus stop in Malom village, near Imphal. Irom Sharmila, an ordinary young woman, spontaneously decided to go on a protest fast. She went to the site of the massacre and began her fast. Many people gathered around her in solidarity with her demand for repeal of AFSPA. Within days, she was arrested by the police and sentenced under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) -- attempt to suicide to a year in judicial custody.



Her fast has a single goal: withdrawal of AFSPA. Fifteen years later, Irom Sharmila’s fast continues. Every year she is released, and she continues her fast in public, is re-arrested and remanded to judicial custody. She is force-fed, through a nasal tube. She lives in solitary confinement, a small bare room, with a lady home guard to keep watch over her at night.

Irom Sharmila is a sensitive poet and human rights activist, who worked as a journalist and social worker. She was 28 years old when she began her fast. She observes, “In Manipur there is no development. There is no industry.

Everything is being imported. Even the rice is imported. Earlier we had rice in plenty, but now we do not grow enough for our needs. There are no jobs, for any job a huge bribe has to be paid. My campaign is for the right kind of development. The politicians are very selfish and corrupt. When I thought of taking this step, it was to change the trend in politics. Politicians should work for the people, but they are not doing so.”

Sharmila’s grandmother Tonsija Devi used to inspire Sharmila with stories of the Second Nupilan, in which she had herself participated. Tonsija Devi would recall events of 1939: “The price of paddy was 25 paise for about 30 kilos. All of a sudden the price rose to 3 or 4 rupees. It became impossible for people to buy rice. Rice was sent out of Manipur, while people were starving. Women streamed in from all sides—all the women of Manipur. We spent days outside the Durbar, and finally we won. The Maharaja ordered the price of paddy to be brought down. So we could all eat, and live as before.”

Tonsija Devi was born in 1903 into an ordinary working class family in Shinzamai Bazar, Imphal. When Tonsija Devi died in March 2008 (aged 105 years), she had not met Sharmila since the year 2,000; neither has Sakhi Devi met her daughter, for 15 years now. Both Sakhi Devi and Tonsija Devi played a decisive role in shaping Sharmila’s attitudes and commitments.

On 10 December 2008, Meira Paibis, began an indefinite relay hunger strike, in solidarity with the demand to repeal AFSPA. The relay hunger strike carries on, with a few women sitting everyday on fast inside a makeshift bamboo shelter, near the security wing of J.N. Hospital, in which Sharmila is kept. Every year, people of Manipur celebrate a `Festival of Peace, Justice and Hope’ during the first week of November, commemorating the start of Sharmila’s fast. Songs, plays, discussions, film screenings, multi-faith prayers and solidarity fasts mark the event. Supporters hold solidarity fasts, songs and discussions wherever they are -- in different cities of India, and other countries.

In March 2008, Peace Women across the Globe appealed for solidarity action in support of Sharmila’s campaign. Film screenings of Tales from the Margins, a documentary film by Kavita Joshi, were held in several places. Grassroots people’s movements in different parts of India observed Manipur Solidarity Day to express their concern for human rights violations in Manipur. In 2010, a group of activists and intellectuals in Kerala performed a play on Irom Sharmila, which they took to several cities, winding up in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. A young actor from Pune, Ojas, took up the play and has performed it over a 100 times, in different parts of the country.

Irom Sharmila represents the voice of the ordinary people of Manipur. Physically isolated and seemingly frail, Sharmila’s spirit remains exceptionally strong. She is an inspiration, a practitioner of Gandhian non-violence, a woman of iron will who challenges the high-handedness of state power.

Mayank Rai

Hi, My name is Mayank Rai. I found that Blogging is an easiest way to share your knowledge with everyone & learn something new from there.

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