A Few Minutes With The Iron Lady Of India
By Ravi Nitesh
15 June, 2014
An interaction with the world’s longest hunger striker
It was a meeting, an interaction with not a celebrity, neither any famous educationist, nor a politician, but for me, it was more than that. It was an interaction wherein I found that she is not an educationist, but is a subject of research papers and that her life itself is a source of learning. I found that she is not a politician, but her fight was such that it became one of the very important political movements. I found that she is not a celebrity but people were fascinated with her, media wanted to click her and the police surrounded her. Afterall, it was the case of World’s longest hunger striker who has been on a hunger-strike since last 14 years in the Manipur state of India with the demand to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA.
AFSPA is a special act that empowers the armed forces of India with an extraordinary power when they operate in a conflict area where AFSPA is imposed. These extraordinary powers include the right to shoot, torture on mere suspicion and arrest without warrant. The forces are also empowered with legal impunity. No offence can be registered without any prior approval of central government. This act has led to extra-judicial killings, rapes, kidnapping, torture and fake encounters by security forces but not a single permission was ever given by the Government of India to prosecute any army personals.
In protest against the havoc created by AFSPA, in 2000, Irom Chanu Sharmila decided to sit on a hunger-strike against AFSPA for a day in the hope that the Government that will listen to her. Today, she is in her 14th year of hunger-strike. Yet, her faith has remained unshaken. She is hopeful that the Government will listen to her. As her supporter, I have not only admired her but have been deeply amazed and inspired by her relentless faith and determination. Even after 14 years of awaiting justice, even with health problems, she remains strong and determined. It has always been a mystery to me and it was this one thing that I took with me when I got the privilege to interact with her.
Throughout the interaction, she had a smiling face. She resonated positivity and calmness. She was soft-spoken but her determination was powerful even in her words.
She had started her talk with the story of King Ashoka who as a warrior had fought many kings but had became tearful and sensitive after the Kalinga war which had claimed thousands of lives. He had become so moved that he had renounced war and had started working for peace. She hoped that the Government may also become like Ashoka. She expressed her hope that the Government will also realize. They will improve themselves. They will understand that war/violence is never the solution.
Since her demand to repeal of AFSPA is shown as confined to Manipur, I inquired about it and she said that AFSPA is an inhuman law and it does not deserve to be in any region. On my question that what will you do if the government will be agreed to lift it from Manipur but not from J&K. She remarked (with smile), “Let them lift from Manipur first and then they must do it from all other states including Jammu and Kashmir”.
On asking that what keeps her going? What has motivated her to have continued their struggle for so long? She smiled and replied, “conscience”. Her conscience doesn’t allow her to see this injustice. She refuted the claim that she is committing suicide. She remarked that she loves life.
I was moved by her simplicity. She is a simple person and in that simplicity, lies her strength. She has been awaiting justice even though she was never a direct victim. She was not a political activist yet she decided to devote her life for justice. She was not doing it for any reason, any political motive but for humanity. She decided to fight because she wanted that everyone should have the right to justice. Everyone should possess the same rights. She is an ordinary citizen, she said, but with a conscience.
Ravi Nitesh is a Petroleum Engineer, Founder- Mission Bhartiyam, Core Member- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign
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Photo By Ravi Nitesh
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