Why we should fast in support of Irom Sharmila

Why we should fast in support of Irom Sharmila
To sign the on-line petition in support of Irom Sharmila, go to:

Let's talk about why should I fast in support of Irom Sharmila? Because her commitment and resolve has shamed me! And I am a coward, who doesn't have enough courage to go to Manipur and sit with Irom Sharmila. This is the least one can do, in solidarity.

Irom Chanu Sharmila, who has been fasting since last 7 years, and government has been forcibly keeping her mostly in hospital confinement, has a clear demand: repeal the amended 1972 Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which is operative at the time of a 'suspected' riot(s) in order to 'maintain public order', allows killing by shooting, entering and search of property, and arbitrary detention, etc., its abuse is currently spawning grave human rights violations in some parts of India. Under the powers of AFSPA, on 2 November 2000, the Indian military opened fire on its own citizens in the state of Manipur. Since then, Irom Sharmila, a resident of the tragic state, has refused to eat and drink anything in resistance to indiscriminate use of the AFSPA against civilians. The response of the Indian government to her resistance has been repetitively evasive: the government has repeatedly arrested her on a charge of 'attempted suicide', confined her in hospitals, and then freed her under applicable law, but, up until now, has failed to provide any fundamental alternative to the law in question.

"This fast is to support one of the longest solitary peaceful struggles of our times which saddens our hearts but doesn't move the authorities a bit. We are confident that the truth will emerge victorious one day" poignantly remarked Magsaysay Awardee (2002) Dr Sandeep Pandey before boarding the train to Manipur today. Dr Pandey, who is the convener of India's largest network of people's movements – NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements), will be sitting on a 5 days fast along with other activists outside Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, Manipur from 13 September 2007.

Other frontline activists who will be joining the fast in Imphal include: Biju Barboruah, Mahesh Kumar Pandey, Editor of 'Sachchi-Muchchi' Arvind Murti, Jai Shankar, Prem, Paras Ram Rana, and Faizal Khan.

Several other individuals in many parts of the world will be keeping the fast – where they are – for varying durations – in support of Irom Sharmila's struggle, I am just one of them.

North-East India abounds with sordid sagas of rape and molestation of women with alleged involvement of Armed Forces personnel. Who can forget the stunning sight three years back, of about three dozen naked women protesting on the street outside the then Assam Rifles headquarters at Kangla Fort in Imphal carrying placards saying ' Indian Army rape us,'outraged by the rape, torture and murder of 32 year old unmarried Thangjam Manorama?

The AFSPA has been used in the north-east of India, to carry out extra judicial killings, extra judicial deprivation of liberty to people by illegal imposition of curfew, long periods of detention at army posts and camps and use of churches and school as detention or interrogation centers. Torture, with a view to extract confessions, includes beating with rifle butts, kicking with boots and hitting with blunt weapons, giving electric shocks, breaking limbs, depriving persons of food, drink and sleep, hanging persons upside down and beating on soles, burying persons alive, stripping, stuffing chilli powder in nose, eyes and private parts, hands and feet tied, and the whole body suspended over fire with a bamboo in between the hands and legs and threat to shoot, interrogation at gun point. Most of these would be considered a serious offence under sections 330 and 331 of the IPC. Provisions of AFSPA make it extremely difficult for a person to seek any legal recourse for justice.

I heard first about Irom Sharmila when she was awarded the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. I was indeed amazed to read about Irom Sharmila's steely resolve, and later I learnt more about her peaceful non-violent struggle from other fellow-activists. An enormous guilt surfaced within me, because I had no courage to go to Manipur and join her struggle, even for tokenism. I rather flew to Thailand.

She has no banner, no organization, no vested interest, no press-release, no statement – except a compulsive singular demand to repeal AFSPA. She hasn't resorted to violence, rather has sacrificed her life to her strongest conviction – repeal AFSPA for the larger benefit to humankind, especially to women in conflict-stricken areas. This is indeed one of the most peaceful non-violent struggles one can come across, and as Dr Pandey noted "I am an atheist. But if there is any divinity it is this. If this is not spiritualism then what is? She is the epitome of purity."

The protest of Irom Sharmila represents the most ideal form of peaceful struggle for a democratic demand. Her victory is essential for the strengthening of democracy in India and for the respect for human rights around the world. Her victory will determine whether the voice of common citizen will be heard or the state will trample over people's rights with anti-people laws and policies.

A fast in solidarity, from wherever you are in the world, is just one of the easy ways to express your solidarity and strengthen Irom's voice.
To sign the on-line petition in support of Irom Sharmila, go to: