December 06, 2011

Irom Sharmila Chanu Completed 11 years of her indefinite hunger-strike..!

On November 3, 2011, when her fast against the Armed Forces Special Protection Act in force in Manipur completed 11 years, Irom Sharmila, 
 a Manipuri poet in northeast India, 
 penned a heartfelt appeal to her people, which was handed over to the media on November 30 as she was being produced before the chief judicial magistrate in Imphal.

Presently she is confine in JN hospital, Imphal under high security and is forcefully being fed through the nose using a tube.  

Sharmila began her protest after the Malom massacre where 10 civilians were gunned down by the Armed Forces on 2 November 2000. AFSPA provides special powers to arrest, detain and even kill civilians on suspicion. The people of Manipur have done whatever is humanely possible to register their protest against AFSPA -- naked protest by mothers, self immolation by student leaders, mass demonstration, petition to the Supreme Court, complaints to the United Nations etc.

On the other hand, Sharmila who has become the icon of the protest against this draconian law is treated as a petty criminal, charged for attempting to commit suicide. Even though the May 18 Foundation of Korea has awarded her the prestigious Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2007, the Government of India continues her detention in isolation as a high security prisoner for a decade. Her struggle lies not only in defending the most basic and fundamental human rights of her people, but also in questioning the very foundations of Indian democracy which venerates Mahatma Gandhi and his principles of ahimsa or non-violence.

Translated from Manupuri text by Chitra:

It is the day that left its mark on time. If only human beings were able to relate to nature and her form: the breeze, the birds in the skies, the insects chirping away. If only human beings were able to live without being petty or mean minded like the living beings around us, there would not have been the ongoing war to be better off than the other. There would not be a relentless drive to suppress the other person to get your way in life. But men seem to have only learnt from how animals in the jungle prey on weaker animals and their bloodthirsty instincts. The use of weapons of destruction like guns has led many a young lives to leave their homes and taking part in the theatre of war.

Many lives have been affected and a thousand marital ties are affected by the unending struggles. Men’s inability to trust nature and God’s creation has led to the quest for artificially manufactured things and the transient comfort they can give. This has encouraged the race for getting more and more money leading to violating what is due to other people. People have forgotten to be humble and only learnt how to forgo truth.

The state and nature of a society and its people are reflected in the nature of its political leadership. Over time immemorial, different communities have co-existed peacefully with one another in harmony. The people of the hill and the valley used to share the products of the land. If the produce of the land was low, the produce was still shared equally. The roots of the rush to acquire more land and other trappings of power and influence are an outcome of a weak and diluted leadership. While one cannot take along their belongings once they pass away, the practice of fighting over who gets to control which part of the land has led to divisions between communities and the call for breaking away. So long as leaders are more concerned in amassing wealth for themselves and counting their money, who is it that will lead the way? The leaders are the ones who should be the backbone of the society. It is their duty to revitalize people who are tired and worn out. It is their mandate to soothe down the minds and hearts of people.

I hear many things that leave me astounded. I hear these stories from the people around me. They tell me that they stand in line at petrol pumps. They say that they start queuing much before the day breaks till about 3 in the afternoon only to be told that the petrol stock has got over. They tell me that they feel sleepy and exhausted after their quest for petrol. And I think to myself: this petrol that is so necessary is something that is not of our state. Then I think about how our ancestors lived. They had limited world exposure but lived self sufficiently. They did not have to depend on other people. Would their way of life be inconvenient for them? Today, we seem to be getting lost in the gloss and glitter that exist around us. Is the quest for glitter making us lose our heads and in the process taking away our mind faculties? Will it not be possible to think that such gloss and glamour do not exist and then reorganize our lives accordingly? It is only when we know our own selves as we really are that we can begin to think of collective good. The ability to think of collective good can only contribute to the betterment of a society.

I do know and I do hear that among the daily wage earners who have been newly recruited, 54 of them came up with Rs 3 lakh each to give to a doctor who is related to the Chief Minister. The total amount, coming to a little over a Crore and a half was taken as ‘favour money’ but later, the joint government order mentioned that there could not be any demand for their job regularization. The trade for a government job has reached suffocation point and for this tiny state that is yet to be able to stand on its own, it only leads to disillusionment among the youth of today who are well educated and have the ability to contribute to the development of the state. People who are equipped with degrees are left out of gaining employment if they cannot get the amount that is required to guarantee a job. They remain wasted while the state and society stay in dire need of their attention. This state of affairs has only contributed to the malaise that is prevailing in Manipur today. It is this discontent that is the root cause of all that ails the state.

The pursuit of government jobs happen because someone with a government job is ensured financial security in the form of his pension and other entitlements. The race for government jobs means that people sell off their ancestral property and other holdings to collate the amount that is required. The subsequent efforts to recover the money spent for a government job results in government departments being crippled with corruption. The sense of duty has entirely disappeared in every sphere, be it the judiciary, health care system. That is why we get to see confrontations arising out of disgruntlement from the common men who are fed up with the way the system is operating.

The emergence of the select few who have power and money at their disposal have emboldened them and led to treading on the lives of the less fortunate. It has become common for them to exploit those who earn on a daily basis by taking way their basic human rights just as it has become normal to hear about crimes against women. The powerful and the wealthy are well connected to the leaders who are leading the pack of thieves and are hence not wanting for anything in their existence. But the rampant exploitation of the poor daily wage earners and the farmers who are at the end of the social and economic spectrum leaves them without the resources to live comfortably on one hand and leave them without the means to have their grievances addressed. Left without the backing of powerful, they face an uphill process when they attempt to air their life stories of unaddressed issues.

My beloved people!
Just as all living beings have faith are drawn to Mother nature as one to her bountiful lap, let us place faith in our mothers who have borne us. Our mothers who are like no one else, keeping guard in the dead of the night with a fire torch in hand. May the light in your torch lead us to a better society where love and harmony exists between different groups. May it bring together all the fragmented pieces. May Mother nature continue to bless us with her bountiful gifts to feed everyone.

May people have access to health care for every-one. May anger and disillusionment go away. May those who stone and set fire to vehicles that are carrying food and other supplies for their fellowmen leave behind their destructive nature. May the seething anger that leaves us half dead and half alive and caught between hunger and excess, May all that is uncalled for go away. May we be able to live in peace as nature does. May we strive to be selfless. May we be able to imbibe the spirit of sacrifice. May the movements that started with a vision to serve the people and all those who set out to work for the people by getting into governance find their way back to what they set out to do. May all their wrong doing and their pretensions of doing good turn into what is right. May all that is wrong, get resolved. May we be able to find the way to a better Manipur! May we be able to give up setting fire to the centers of learning. May we be able to save the pillars of our society from HIV/AIDS so they are able to stand together as one. May we be able to save lives. May a new beginning be heralded that brings justice to every one. May all that is evil and wrong be changed by truth.

The above text was handed over, to be distributed to all media outlets, as Irom Sharmila was being led towards the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate on Nov 30, 2011.

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  1. 'Iron Lady' Irom Chanu Sharmila, who is demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur, today completed 11 years of her indefinite hunger-strike.

    On November 2, 2000, an Assam Rifles battalion allegedly killed 10 civilians in a village near Imphal. Three days later, Sharmila embarked on her fast, demanding revocation of the Act.

    Since then it has settled into a ritual which involves a ten-minute ambulance journey from hospital to court every fortnight where the magistrate asks her whether she would break her fast.

    The ritual has repeated itself over 500 times so far, but her reply remains the same - "Fast thodolokai" (No, I won't break my fast). The court then extends her judicial remand for another 15 days.

    She hasn't ingested food or water all these years and is force-fed through a nasal tube. Hunger strike is seen as an attempt to commit suicide, which is a punishable offence.

    The 39-year-old civil rights activist, described as a 'habitual offender' by the court, has been arrested, released and re-arrested for attempt to commit suicide.

    Produced as an undertrial prisoner at the Imphal East district's CJM court, she has refused bail each time.

    "If she accepts bail she has to give a written undertaking of not repeating the offence. In other words, she has to discontinue her fast for getting bail," Sharmila's long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam of the Just Peace Foundation told PTI.

    The police, too, have not filed any charge sheet in the case.


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