I have not really been able to take out enough time to read the daily paper lately, but today as I did so, I came across the news about the legend Irom Sharmilla deciding to call off her 16 year long fast. Truth is, I know about Irom Sharmilla because of this long fast she had been keeping and whatever little I read in the news. So I decided to dig a bit deeper and find out what the issue actually is.
Irom Chanu Sharmilla has been fasting for the past 16 years, a struggle which began in November 2000, when 10 civilians where shot while waiting at a bus stop in Manipur. It was after this incident that Sharmilla started fasting to repeal against the AFSPA ( Armed Forces Special Protection Act, 1958 ) where in the Governor of a particular state can declare a particular locality as a ‘disturbed area’. And if you reside in such disturbed area then the armed force can search your home, arrest you or even shoot you. They will have legal immunity to do so.
Her legendary struggle found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the longest hunger strike ever. She has been arrested repeatedly for attempting suicide and have been force-fed by the state.
And now, she has decided to call the strike off. She wants to contest elections in Manipur, become the Chief Minister of the state and repeal AFSPA.
As she stepped out to break her fast, she had nowhere to go but the hospital where she had spent 16 years as no body was ready to accept her. People have perhaps misunderstood her decision. There have been posts comparing her to an icon who has just let people down. Is that really so?
Why do we need AFSPA in Manipur in the first place?
To maintain security and peace. AFSPA was imposed in Manipur on September 8, 1980 to tackle the lawlessness created by four main insurgent groups through dacoity, ransom and killings. To maintain law and order, the army needs special powers infested to them through this act.
So basically, AFSPA has been in Manipur for 36 years, and for most of the north-eastern states for that matter but the situation has not improved enough for this act to be done away with. AFSPA being ordered for such long time simply means that the north-eastern states have been in a state of “disturbance” for more than three decades. Except, Tripura.
Yes, the state of Tripura has gotten rid of AFSPA after 18 long years. Tripura is now one of the fastest developing states in India, and it has improved its law and order situation significantly enough to be an AFSPA free north-eastern state. Manik Sarkar, known as the “poorest CM” of India, has been the Chief Minister of Tripura for 15 long years, and has supported significantly for this development.
In such a scenario, if Sharmilla has decided to quit her silent struggle, a fast to which she had given 16 years of her life, and wants to contest elections for the state, it does seem practical. There is nothing wrong in trying to change her ways if she has not achieved it in 16 long years. She has shown courage to accept that she needs to try a different approach.
We all have idolised Gandhi and so many other great leaders who have sacrificed their lives and in the end were able to do justice to their struggles. If we really think about it, Gandhi changed his ways as per those times, he was the first one to lead such a massive non-violent struggle in India. And it worked. He tried a way he believed in and it had not been practised before.
If thought about in the same direction by keeping change as the only constant, Sharmilla deciding to contest elections and asking for support, especially for the cause she has given 16 years of her life to makes sense. She has been fighting for the people of Manipur, her state, for peace and justice. She needs the support of people, her people to make a difference this time for if she loses, it will not be just her loss.
“It is no use saying we are doing our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” -Winston Churchill