My Indian of the Six Years

irom sharmilaCNN-IBN is ratcheting up its focus on the ‘Indian of the Year’ award. My vote is for someone who isn’t even nominated. Irom Sharmila Chanu, the poet, the activist, the Menghaobi (what those in Manipur call her; ‘the fair one’). The woman who has been on a protest fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for the past six years. The woman who has been under arrest and force fed through a nasal tube for almost as long. Perhaps I should call her My Indian of the Six Years.

I’ve written about her before, but two days ago, I found another appeal from a friend and colleague, Monisha Behal, of the North East Network (a women’s rights organisation) in my inbox:

We all know about Irom Sharmila, who has been on a fast since 2000 against the Armed Forces Special Power Act. There are small movements in different parts of this country demanding the Centre to repeal this Act. Signature campaigns in favour of Sharmila are going on as well, especially from women’s organizations. I realized that news channels which publicized Jessica Lal’s case were unbelievably successful. NDTV conducted opinion polls through SMS on mobile phones. I never thought this new technique would work so well.

I visited Sharmila at a New Delhi hospital last evening. I conveyed to her messages of goodwill and support from friends and colleagues. And yet I knew that most do not know about her the way people know about Jessica. Just then Sharmila’s brother showed me an article about her in the Femina February 14, 2007.

I read the piece and saw a small message in the end of the final page. It says: DO YOU SUPPORT IROM’S WAY OF FIGHTING THE AUTHORITIES? SMS us your replies at 3636 (type FE [space] F0038 then your response, name and city).

I hope very much that this new technique of the media will do some magic to a woman who wants to live, see and enjoy the beauty of this world. Please, do SMS your support to young Sharmila.

Support Sharmila, repeal the AFSPA

Irom Sharmila has been on a protest fast for the past six years; since 2nd November 2000, when security forces killed innocent villagers in Malom, Manipur. About three weeks later, she was arrested and charged with attempted suicide: the authorities in Manipur have since been force-feeding her through a nasal tube. Sharmila was released on October 3rd from judicial custody, and on Friday, October 4th (last Friday), she was smuggled out of Imphal, and began her protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.

On Friday night, she was moved to AIIMS by the police. This morning, The Hindu carried a report by Siddharth Varadarajan, that the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission, tasked with reviewing the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), feels that it should be repealed. The report quotes the Commission as saying:

The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.[…]the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.[…]It is highly desirable and advisable to repeal the Act altogether, without, of course, losing sight of the overwhelming desire of an overwhelming majority of the [North-East] region that the Army should remain (though the Act should go).

* Announcement: There is to be a peaceful protest in Bangalore, in solidarity with Sharmila, urging the state to repeal the AFSPA. 2nd of November, 2006, at 5pm, at the Gandhi statue, MG Road.