Diwali is just round the corner. But this year the festive season has been preceded by a rather long fasting season. Anna Hazare is the talk of the town. Everyone under the sun is performing his or her own “Anna”tomy of corruption and what should and should not be done. TV channels and media can’t have enough of the man. Having an opinion about Anna Hazare (and not necessarily about corruption) is the latest fashion trend in
. Hazare is at the same time a
“youth icon” who has revolutionized a whole nation as well as a sanctimonious
right-wing tyrant so cloaked in his own virtue that he believes he is above the
law. Some people talk about the silent war he has been waging for the last 2
decades against corruption in India Maharashtra
while others joke about his sudden claim to fame as a household name today.
Some people feel empowered and are out on the streets. Others feel threatened
and lambast his hooligan ways.
Our politicians may not be good at creating good business models but they are extremely good at copying a successful strategy and rehashing it to death. So they have already pirated Anna’s weapon (which was instead re-invented from Gandhi) and are coming up with their own personal marketing strategies. So post Anna phenomenon, we are witnessing a plethora of wannabe fasts (read “spectacles”) by BJP (spearheaded by none other than Mr.Narendra Modi) and Congress. Now I can understand that Congress went into the fast because Modi did so. But I don’t get why Modi is fasting and that too for 3 days. Well, no cake for his birthday at least!
And media as usual is having field day after field day covering every such event to its most intricate detail comparing and contrasting them with star-studded debate panels. That is all about these popular fests.. sorry fasts. Now I want to direct your attention to a woman who has been fasting for the last 10 years and we have barely noticed her. She is “Irom Sharmila”, the world’s longest hunger striker, who has completed 10 years of fasting against human rights abuses in Manipur and is determined to continue until death.
Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since November 2, 2000 seeking the Government of India to repeal the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has been the cause for violence and grave injustice in Manipur and other parts of
India. The event that triggered this innocent girl to give up food
forever (until now) was the “Malom Massacre” where 10 civilians (which included
a 62 year old woman and an 18 year old Child bravery award winner) were killed while
waiting at a bus stop by the
rifles in an encounter with militants. Assam
Manipur is a state of turmoil, where violence has been implanted forever by continuing insurgency and a draconian state. Insurgents largely made of criminal gangs have been demanding autonomy from
India while authorities
have made the state as militarized as Kashmir.
This gave rise to the AFSPA, a legislation to give police a license to kill as
well as complete immunity from prosecution. The AFSPA allows the army to use
force, shoot or arrest anyone without warrant on the mere suspicion that
someone has committed or was about to commit a cognizable offence. The Act also
prohibits any legal or judicial proceeding against army personnel without the sanction of the Central Government. Now as every autocratic law has
its causalities, this one also has resulted in plenty of extra-judicial
executions, rape and torture of innocents.
All this has led to a decade long struggle by a determined woman who has waited patiently and painfully for the nation to hear her voice. Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an "attempt to commit suicide" and then kept alive in custody through the use of “nasogastric intubation” or force-feeding. Since then, Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year and has been force-fed through a nasal drip for a decade by the authorities. She spends her time in solitary confinement in a hospital ward (read “jail”) reading and writing poetry and hoping against hope that her fast unto death would end before her death and not in her death. Her determination is such that she hasn’t met her mother in all these 10 years and her mother says she will meet Sharmila after the demand is met. If this doesn’t move us to tears then God help us!
She has been fighting death every day for the last 10 years and her fight has largely gone unnoticed while Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption became a “Second Freedom Struggle” for many in this nation. What is the difference between the fights of Anna and Sharmila? In simple terms it can be compared to the public response to
India winning the Cricket World Cup as opposed
winning the Hockey World Cup. It has nothing to do with the people leading the
fight. Their motives are compelling, intentions strong and determination is
rock solid. But what about the followers? While Anna has the whole nation
behind him, few people in this country (and more people abroad) are familiar
with Sharmila and her 10 year hunger strike. For the Indian urban middle class,
Anna’s movement is a convenient bandwagon to jump on. For the Indian media,
the geo-political insignificance of the North-East doesn’t translate to enough
TRPs. And one fasting woman is not going to wake the Government up from its
eternal slumber! India
One of the reasons Irom Sharmila has gone so unnoticed is that the issue she is fighting for does not connect or resonate with the people of
whereas corruption instantly makes every citizen in see red. We don’t care if a
few innocent people were killed in the corner state of Manipur. But we all
complain about the 50 rupees we have to pay to the traffic constable and how
that is such a heinous crime and should be weeded out of our society. To me, Irom
Sharmila’s cause is not as popular but is much more potent. I am not saying we shouldn’t
fight corruption. All I am saying that this is an even bigger and nobler cause.
It is a matter of life and death! (Literally) And all she needs is a bit of
selfless support from us. I am sure it is not too hard to just raise a voice
for her! India
It is real irony that a man who is accused of being spectator to one of
’s greatest mass homicides is
celebrating his birthday with a sham of a fast whereas a poor woman who is
fasting for the last 10 years is constantly arrested on charges of attempted
suicide. I don’t care about the former but I sincerely hope that the latter
comes to an end sometime soon! India