Friday, March 6, 2009
The Iron Lady of India
Our history text books is replete with references to the Sardar Vallabhai Patel as "the Iron man of India". But guess who could vie for the position for the Iron lady of India?
Its not Indira Gandhi or even Pratibha Devi Singh Patel. Unlike Vallabhai Patel, she is not venerated by the Government nor is she is celebrated in textbooks of our school curriculum.
Ok that enough of suspense. The title goes to Irom Sharmila. (its Irom not Iron and that is her name) So who is exactly is this Irom Sharmila ?To sum up in a brief paragraph. She hails from a middle class family. She belongs to the state of Manipur. She had a schooling upto standard twelve. But what made her the Iron Lady is the Gandhian spirit that she had unleashed against the state.
She is on a hunger strike since Nov of 2000. (you got right, for the past nine years she is on a hunger strike) against a alleged Army massacare at Malom, Manipur. But she is forcibily nasal fed to keep her alive. (lest the Government wish her to attain martydom.) For the most of this decade she is under arrest (under the provisions of Indian Penal Code for the cirme of attempting sucide.) Since the jail term is one year for the crime, she is promptly released at the end of her term, then jailed again for her persistence on continuing the hunger strike.
So this saga is continuing for the past ten years now. Her main demands is the repaeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act , 1958(AFPSA). It is draconian and totalitarian act that gives a carte blanche powers to the Indian Army to conduct the affairs of teh state. Alomost all of the fundamental rights (like Right to peacefully assemble, Legal remedy etc.) were abrogated by this act, under the pretext of maintaining law and order. In fact even the Army can fire at any person and still enjoy immunity under the provisions of the law.
Public memory is short, but one powerful image in India's independent history is that of the nude protests by Manipuri women agains the Indian Army. A nation was shell shocked by the image that speaks volume of our indifference to North eastern affairs. we systematically tend to underplay the resentment of the North eastern people against the state. (state meaning India here). For a while the tiny state of Mainpur came into the mainstream prominence. After the period of cooling, the Manipur protest faded away from our radar.
India is a democracy. Of what use is a democracy and the grandoise rights/ liberties. when certain sections of our society is mercilessly reperessed for the past half century. Although mainting law and order is a parmaount duty of a state, but should be pursued to the cost so that even the general citizenry turn against the state?
Justice Jeevan Reddy report(formed after the protest episode) favored the repeal of AFPSA and incorporating some of the demeaning provisons into Unlwaful Activities- Prevention Act (1967)
It is equivalent of old wine in new bottle. The only tangible change on the ground is that kangla Fort, the traditional seat of Manipuri kings, was vacated by the Army and Assam Rifles.
Meanwhile the enquiry against the custodial death of Thanjim Manaorma (the killing which lead to the protests in the valley) has gone no where. The Assam Rifles jawans who raped and murdered here, have still not been brought to books.
Mahatma Gandhi ahimsa was able to work against the mighty British imperialism, but can Sharmila's non-violent struggles against a "democratic" India bring about any fruitful change is highly questionable. As per the latest news report, the PMO is still studying the recommendations of the Jeevan report which was submitted in 2006.
And for our Iron Lady, she is still continuing her marathon fast at Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, Imphal. At the end of the day, nothing seems to have changed.