Hunger strike - the word is so familiar for the Indians (atleast for the politicians) and it become a hot topic for the past few months. It becomes a very powerful weapon these days starting with Anna Hazare’s hunger strike which lasted from 5th April 2011 to 9th April 2011 for 98 hours. This movement showed the world about the unity of common people against the corruption which grown into a gigantic dragon in India. In the same time I came across an article about a lady who is in hunger strike for more than 10 years. She is an Indian; she started her hunger strike from 2nd November, 2000.

                                                                                                             It is shameful on us not knowing about the sacrifice of this great women and it is highly unfair on our part, when we paid lot of attention to 4 days of fasting by Anna Hazare and neglecting 10 years of fasting and that too without any others support. For the past ten years she didn’t have any solid food and water. All these years she has been force-fed a liquefied carbohydrates and proteins by a nasal tube three times a day.                                                                        

Her name is Irom Chanu Sharmila also known as Iron lady of Manipur or Menghaobi (as locals call, meaning “the fair one”). This 39 year woman is a civil rights activist from the state of Manipur. She doesn’t have any huge fans following (Like Anna Hazare) or economical background (Like Baba Ramdev). She was also one among the crores of women in India living her life peacefully and chasing her own dreams, but a violent incident happened in the year 2000 changed her life completely, not only her life but also her people’s life and she become the only light of hope for the people of Mizoram and the other North eastern states. She is struggling alone for more than 10 years to repeal the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in Manipur and the other parts of North-eastern states.

            It all started when the Assam Rifles, one of the paramilitary forces of India opened fire on the civilians in a remote town of Malom in the Manipur Valley. It was stated as the retaliatory response for the militants who attacked a convoy of the Assam Rifles. The dead also include 18 year old Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award Winner. Chandramani had saved an infant from drowning for which he won a gallantry award and was photographed with Rajiv Gandhi. He was also given an identity card that he always carried in his pocket like a testimonial.  “I am sure he must have shown the card to the soldiers’’ says Chandramani’s mother, Chandrajini. Chandramani was shot dead. His brother Rohinja, who happened to be escorting an elderly aunt, rushed to intervene. Both he and the old woman were killed. In one stroke, Chandrajini lost two of her sons and a sister.  The crazed soldiers then killed two scooterists, two local government employees and another boy. Then they raided the village beating people up and shooting at them as they tried to find the elusive insurgent. The rest of the village was marched at gunpoint to the bus shelter from where ten bodies had been removed. Now the activists call this brutal act as the Malom massacre.                                                                                                                                                                                                    Next day Sharmila started fasting to protest the Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act which gave legal immunity to the soldiers. Her brother Irom Singhajit Singh says "The killings took place on 2 November, 2000. It was a Thursday. Sharmila used to fast on Thursdays since she was a child. That day she was fasting too. She has just continued with her fast”. Three days later, police arrested Sharmila on charges of trying to take her life. She was arrested for “attempt to commit suicide” and as per the law, she can be detained for a maximum of 364 days, each time she was released, she would yank the tube out of her nose and continue her fast. Three days later, on the verge of death, she would be arrested again. The government maintains that the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers' Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to the security forces in the state, is necessary to restore normalcy.
  The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was passed on September 11, 1958 by the Parliament of India. It conferred special powers upon armed forces in the so called “disturbed areas” in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura (North eastern states). It was later extended to Jammu & Kashmir as The Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 in July 1990. The act states that in the above described “disturbed” areas, the armed forces has powers to shoot against the “assembly of five or more persons” or possession of deadly weapons, to arrest without a warrant and to enter and search any premise to make arrest. It gives Army officers legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the law. It has been these draconian powers which lead to the atrocities of the Army in these states.  

                                                                                                                   In simple words it gives the army, the usage of emergency powers during peacetime on the people of the north-east   not    just    for one year, but for more than 50 years. Manipur and several other north-eastern states are designated with a special security status and even Indians need special permission to travel there. Human rights campaigners say the act has created an environment of impunity, where troops often shoot suspect on sight. There have been numerous reports of so-called “fake encounters” where security has executed suspects and claimed they were killed in a shoot-out. Last year a photographer captured paramilitaries arresting and killing a former militant in daylight in a busy market. Many people are too scared to go out after dark. Unemployment is huge and mental health problems are high.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              So when people thought that they have no more hope, this 28 year young women started fasting and now serve as the sole hope of these people. The kind of physical and mental stress she is undergoing for  the past 11 years  is very  difficult to express in words. During all this time she has not seen her  elderly  mother, the two  agreeing that  meetings  might  undermine  her  determination.  Her mother, who lives little more than a mile from where Sharmila is held, says: "I will meet her after getting our  demand." She is not even using water for cleaning her teeth; she just uses dry cotton. Doctors say her fasting  is now  having a direct  impact on her  body's normal  functioning - her bones have become brittle and she has developed other medical problems. It was in 2004, after the killing and apparent rape of another activist Thangjam Manorama by security forces, that Manipur saw its most startling protests — and that Ms. Sharmila emerged as an icon of public resistance. In July 2004, Ms. Manorama’s bullet-        ridden body was found in a field near her village, after she had been picked up for questioning by members of the Assam  Rifles. That  discovery was  followed  by one of the most remarkable demonstrations in the recent history of the northeast. Several elderly women stripped in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters,while carrying a banner   that read: “Indian Army,Rape Us.”

                                    Manipuris find it difficult to explain the object of their anger. They admit they have no sympathy for insurgents. ‘‘Some months back, a UG (Underground) leader named Lalhaba was killed by the army at his home and no one bothered,’’ says social worker N Ibungochoubi. People tend to look away when known insurgents are the target. Most also agree that when soldiers are in a life-and-death battle, they shouldn’t be worrying about legal cases. ‘‘I think the anger is about the fact that the army uses this Act to behave as if it is above law and people hate that,’’ says lawyer N Kotishwar, who was part of a panel to review the Act.

            In 2004, after lot of protests followed after the murder of Ms.Manorama, central government set up a five member committee under the chairmanship of Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, former judge of Supreme Court. The committee submitted its recommendations on June 6, 2005. However, the government failed to take any concrete action on the recommendations and it refused to make the report public.

           In 1991, United Nations asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA. They questioned the constitutionality of the AFSPA under Indian law and asked how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. On 23rd  March 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham Pillay to repeal the AFSPA. She termed the law as "dated and colonial-era law that breach contemporary international human rights standards." 


            It's been almost 11 years and Irom Sharmila is continuing her fight against the AFSPA being imposed in Manipur for over 50years. It took Anna Hazare all of 10 days to move the Government out of its slumber, whereas Sharmila's crusade has only fallen on deaf ears. Activists are demanding that Sharmila's non violent and democratic protest should be taken seriously by the Central government.  

            Is the nation care about Northeast and does the nation recognize peaceful and silent protest like the one carried out by Irom Sharmila? Everyone is supporting fight against corruption, but at the same time we won’t even care about a decade long fight to save innocent civilians from the atrocities of the AFSPA Act.The question is whether the nation has forgotten the North-East and the alleged brutality of the Army in the region or will we care only about the India which is north,  south  and  central India  and  not the north-eastern. The reason may be corruption affects our daily life,  whereas the problems of north-eastern states will not make much difference in our life.                                                                                                                                                                                          But this lady is very determined, when asked about the sufferings she undergoes; she humbly replied “How shall I explain? It is not a punishment, but my bounden duty…”                                        

      Ten years on, her fast is unparalleled in the history of political protest. If this will not make us pause, nothing will!!!