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Tale Of Two Gandhians: Anna Hazare And Irom Sharmila

By Mahtab Alam

22 April, 2011
Situations Asia

Once upon a time, not long ago, but a few years back, in the year of 2006, Irom Chanu Sharmila, an adherent of Gandhi's non-violenceand from the state of Manipur, hoping to be heard, decided to shift her 6 year-long agitation from the walled room of J N Hospital, Imphal (Manipur) to New Delhi's Jantar Mantar. She was on a fast-unto-death since November 2000 for repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA), a draconian law which gave extra-judicial powers to Indian Army in the name of ‘countering' insurgency and terrorism. But for Sharmila and her friends, it was not so easy to reach Delhi as the state government was not comfortable with their decision of shifting the venue. Anyhow, she along with her friends escaped and managed to reach Delhi on 2nd October 2006, as her associate and a leading Human rights' activist from Manipur, Babloo Loitongbam tells us, "We never expected we would be able to leave Imphal with Sharmila." The team took an early morning flight and landed in New Delhi. After their arrival, Sharmila immediately headed to Rajghat to pay a floral tribute to her idol, Mahatma Gandhi. Later that evening, she went to Jantar Mantar to continue her protest against AFSPA and Human Rights Violations in Manipur.

A few years down the line, in 2011, Anna Hazare, another passionate follower of Mahatma Gandhi from Maharashtra decided to launch a movement against corruption and raise the demand for Jan Lokpal Bill, a bill lying in the cold storage of the Indian Parliament since 1969 and supposed to be one of the tools for people's empowerment. Like Irom Sharmila, her comrade in ideology of Ahimsa, Anna Hazare also chose the same place, Jantar Mantar, to launch his movement. On 5th of April 2011, Anna Hazare arrived in Delhi and headed for Rajghat to pay tribute to his idol, the Mahatma before reaching Jantar Mantar to start his fast-unto- death for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Unlike Sharmila and her friends, he wasn't required to escape or face any hurdles in reaching Delhi. In fact, much before his arrival in Delhi, hundreds of anti-Corruption ‘activists' and organisations were waiting for him. On his arrival at Jantar Mantar, within a day, the place was declared as ‘Tahrir Square' of India and his movement against Corruption as something similar to the movement in Egypt! What happened during the days and nights of the mega-event at Jantar Mantar needs no elaboration as the media houses left no stone unturned to ‘enlighten' us about the movement on minute-by-minute basis. Moreover, the movement was joined by similar kinds of fasts and protest Dharnas in many cities across the country. Within hours, Anna Hazare turned into the ‘God' and ‘Saviour' of the nation from being the ‘God' and ‘Saviour' of Ralegaon Siddhi, a village of Maharastra where he had worked for years. Interestingly, his campaign against corruption drew support of some of the most famous people who have been alleged in cases concerning to corruption like Lalit Modi and Jaya Lalitha, apart from a number of communal, fascist and racist people and organisations. Of course, a large number of members of the ‘civil society' also joined him. As all of us know, in Swami Agniwesh's words, ‘the movement shook the Government of India'! In a span of only 87 hours, the Government of India issued a notification accepting the demand of Anna and his followers. The media houses screamed, ‘India Wins Again'!

But what about Irom Sharmila,What happened to her movement? Did she and the people of Manipur ‘win like the Indians'? No, it happened like this. On the arrival of Irom Shamila at Jantar Mantar, she was joined by a small number of activists, students and teachers, mostly from Manipur.

Contrary to Anna Hazare's sit in at Jantar Mantar, in less than three days, the Delhi Police swooped down and arrested her in the midnight of 6th October, 2006.

According to reports, more than 100 police personnel arrested her even as Manipuri students and other supporters sang "We shall overcome." The reason of her arrest, as given by a senior police officer at Parliament Street police station was, "Her condition is critical and we have no option but to take her to hospital." After the arrest, she was first shifted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and later AIIMS, where she was kept under heavy security. There, she was not allowed to meet her supporters. Not even media. I distinctly remember, on 26th of November 2006 when I along with my friend Avi Prasad, with whom I studied at Jamia Millia Islamia visited the hospital to meet her and extend our solidarity, we were not allowed citing security reasons. Few months later, Sharmila was sent back to Manipur and she is still on fast. Last year, on 4th November she completed the worlds longest fast and it seems that she would be the first Gandhian, who would complete her fast unto death in the real sense as we hardly see any intention to repeal the draconian law.

It is an established fact that over the years, due to the draconian law, hundreds of ordinary citizens of the so-called disturbed states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir have lost their lives. Extra-judicial killings, illegal detention, rape, torture has become a routine affair for the people-men, women, old and child all alike, of these ‘disturbed areas'. The act has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness by the one who is supposed to protect their life, liberty and dignity. And without an iota of doubt, the impacts of the draconian laws like AFSPA, UAPA and PSA are much-much far reaching and disastrous than corruption. These are tools of the Indian government, through which it is alienating and pushing towards the wall its ‘own-people'. And government after government, no matter which partyis at the helm of affairs, is not worried about these people, norready to scrap these tools of oppressions. Because, it is not in the ‘agenda' of ordinary Indians, because they love the oppressors, murders and rapists of hundreds of citizens of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir, because, they Love Indian Army more than people (see picture).

So, the Indian governments can't do anything which takes over riding powers from security agencies to be trigger-happy.

Anyone, who opposes and exposes the brutalities of the Indian Army and other security forces, is not going to get the support of Indians, no matter how great a Gandhian he or she is. In India, to garner support, it is not enough to be a mere Gandhian, but a Gandhian with a difference-a Gandhian, who can sit with the murders of Gandhi, praise the person who was responsible for genocide in the land of the Mahatma, back the racist and fascist mentalities and policies.

‘Unfortunately', Irom Sharmila disqualifies to be such a Gandhian and I am sure she must be proud of being ‘unfortunate'!

(Mahtab Alam is a civil rights' activist and independent journalist. He can be reached at activist.journalist@gmail.com)



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