Sharmila’s determined struggle

By Hueiyen News Service

Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace

Imphal, October 29: Irom Sharmila’s fasting completes 10-years on November 2. To mark the occasion, Just Peace Foundation is organising a five day long ‘Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace’.

Irom Sharmila Chanu has been on indefinite hunger strike since November 2000 demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA). She began her non-violent protest after the Malom massacre where 10 civilians were gunned down by Indian security forces on 2 November 2000.

The Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace is being organised to mark the lone struggle of a woman, Sharmila, calling for repeal of the AFSPA, 1958 which provides special powers to arrest, detain and even kill civilians on suspicion, the Just Peace Foundation said.

Wherever AFSPA is in operation, enforced ‘disappearances’, extra-judicial killings, tortures, rapes and arbitrary detentions have been the routine. When the Union Home Minster introduced the law in Parliament in 1958 it was assured that the Act will be only a temporary measure, but it has been in force on for more than 52 years now.

The people of Manipur have done whatever is humanly possible to register their protests against AFSPA — naked protest by mothers, self immolation by student leaders, mass demonstrations, petitions to the Supreme Court, complaints to the United Nations etc. etc.

But Government of India remains completely indifferent on issues of right to life  and dignity. Today, Sharmila’s persistent protest has become unprecedented in the history of human resilience. 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.

Terming that Sharmila’s stir as an extraordinary struggle of an extraordinary woman, the Just Peace Foundation (JPF), in collaboration with the civil society in Manipur, is celebrating Sharmila’s indomitable spirit, her audacity to hope in the midst of adversities, her unwavering stand for justice and her deep yearning for peace.

The five day festival slated to commence on November, 2 was part of the series of cultural programs, concerts, painting competitions, exhibitions, press meets, seminars, literary and artistic activities, public meetings, poets’ meets, public rallies, poster campaigns, T-shirt release, book release etc to mark the 100 Days Countdown towards the decade long hunger strike which began on 25 July 2010.

“The Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace will be a celebration of the indefatigable spirit of humanity. JPF humbly request you to use this historic occasion to take whatever action possible to collectively engage again with age old concepts of Justice and Peace and to reach out to the ongoing struggles of all the oppressed peoples across the world,” organizers said adding that the festival will be held at the auditorium of JN Manipuri Dance Academy, Imphal.

On the other hand, extending support to the struggle of Sharmila, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, in a press handout today, stated “We, human rights defenders and women human rights defenders, stand as one in demanding that the AFSPA should be repealed immediately and that the hunger strike of Ms. Irom Sharmila must end now.”

Her (Sharmila’s) 10-year fasting symbolizes the journey of the people of Manipur and other areas of Northeast India for genuine peace and freedom from violence. The direct cause for the hunger strike of Irom Sharmila is the Malom massacre in 2 November 2000, they reiterated.

Ironically, the Government of India responded to this act of peaceful protest by arresting her several times on charges of attempted suicide, unlawful under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

The cycle of arrests of Irom Sharmila has continued for the past 10 years while Sharmila has been recognized internationally for her work on the issues of women’s empowerment, peace and human rights, and her non-violent means of fighting for human rights.

In 2007, Irom Sharmila was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights and in 2010, the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize. Despite the international community’s recognition of Sharmila’s struggle, the Indian government insists on keeping her under judicial custody in the Security Ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, Manipur, and forcibly feeding her through nasogastric intubations.