Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year-end post 5: Sharmila Irom

I read a powerful, passionate piece on Manipur's Sharmila Irom. She is fasting for ten years now to demand the repeal of the AFSPA- Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

You will find details of the misuse of the special act in this Tehelka article, but let me tell you something I remember.

On the desk, we selected stories from North-east editions of TOI published a day before for our early edition. I distinctly remember the stories following the killing of Sanjit Singh and a pregnant woman. The follow-ups, the spate of protests, police rebuttal and anger, violence went on for months. My job made it necessary for me to read through all these stories, select and present it to readers in the districts of West Bengal. Ironically, we did not have enough space in our main edition to include even these culled, subbed versions of North-east mayhem. These stories, the continuous stream of violence and unrest in a part of my country unsettled me extremely. Some editions were so moving and so screaming for attention, it seemed as if our early and late editions too should have more space dedicated to this very real, sad and on-going conflict in the country. But no, the paper has a set pattern for various reasons.

Sharmila Irom, to me, is the epitome of feminine gentleness, strength and gumption. I have been hearing about her ever since I was in high school. She's the same frail woman, defying age and medical science with her grit. Ten years, the article says, has finished her. On a physical level, that is. It is something in her steeled psyche, something in her beliefs and goals, something about her consciousness that's keeping her alive. Sharmila, I want you to see the end of your battle and I pray. May 2011 bring you what you want.

Sharmila's protest is dignified with its silent, subtle plea for attention. We read about her, get moved and forget about her for a year or two when again her frail face catches out attention in a daily. It is then that we realise that we have moved on, but this woman is where she was. Alone and hopeful.

What Sharmila wants is not a qualified, select request. If her decade of going without food and water were to shame the state into concrete action, it would send a poignant message to both parties, the armed forces and the rebels, to give peace a chance.

Sharmila on Wikipedia

Photos of Sharmila

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There doesn't appear to be any intelligence in the IB treatment of Sharmila Irom. I had an application to visit her in Manipur held up since end of May last year. When they lifted the PAP requirement for foreign nationals I came anyway. I have a separate application to visit her scheduled for this Saturday. But there does not appear to be any rhyme or reason in the policy against her. When I told two visiting foreigners at breakfast about her (the only other foreigners I have seen are visiting Christian Baptist Missionaries these two were hosted by an Army Colonel 'Mac'. They came back the next day with a story that the Government were only protecting the woman because she is trying to commit suicide. I disabused them with the truth and they backed away. I am hoping to purchase or covenant the land where the Malom massacre took place. Like you the people began a memorial and then forgot about it. There is little disrespect to the Shelter a few empty cigarette and crisp packets but I am sure if a Teak wood floor were put in, if after consultations with the family survivors and the local community, competitions were held to commission local artists then a beautiful sacred memorial could be put in place to honour the dead, and to honour Sharmila's satyagraha. To give her something to be released to once AF(SP)A has been repealed. The brutal callous murder of ten ordinary citizens waiting in the newly constructed bus shelter should have given the army cause to reflect. If after 50 years AF(SP)A has not solved the problems of Manipur but increased and multiplied them. If it allows Mother India to murder her children which the Supreme Court opposes in areas of India not designated disturbed. What purpose does it serve. Soldiers don't need immunity from prosecution for war crimes. Professional soldiers know it cannot be guaranteed.

Desi Coutinho
Imphal Classic Hotel till 31 Jan