As proletarian women from all over the world get ready to celebrate the centenary of the International Workmgwomcn’s Day next year, Irom Sharmila Chanu, the epitome of resilience and indomitable courage, is on the verge of achieving another landmark in her prolonged struggle against the mighty and ruthless Indian state. On November 2, 2010, Irom Sharmila, a Manipuri poet and human rights activist, will complete 10 years of hunger strike demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA). An extraordinary struggle of an extraordinary woman! Withstanding the test of time, Sharmila’s struggle exemplifies the triumph of democratic aspiration over the unbridled power of that stooge of world imperialism – the Indian State. Ten years since it began in 2000. Irom Sharmila Chanu’s fast is unparalleled in the history of political protest.
Sharmila began her protest after 10 civilians were gunned down by the Armed Forces on November 1, 2000. That day, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, 10 innocent people who were waiting for their buses at a bus stop were gunned down by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating m the state. The dead included a 62-year-old woman, Leisangbam Ibotomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner! The incident, which came to be known as the ‘Malom Massacre’, affirmed the continuation of the endless killings by the Indian armed forces in Manipur and inspired Sharmila, then only 28, to act. Thus she launched her historic hunger strike against the AFSPA in particular and the widespread repression unleashed against the people of Manipur by the Indian state in general.
The single most determined objective of Sharmila’s protest then was the repeal of the AFSPA from the state of Manipur. However, over the last nine years, she has extended the scope of her demand to all regions of India’s north east where AFSPA has been imposed. The AFSPA provides special powers to arrest, detain and even kill civilians on suspicion. The power to search and destroy properties on mere suspicion is granted to the Armed Forces of the Union in the ‘disturbed areas’ of the North East (and subsequently m Kashmir). Wherever the AFSPA is m operation, enforced ‘disappearances’, extra-judicial killings, torture, rape, arbitrary detention and unspeakable atrocities against women have been routinely reported. In 1958 when the Union Home Minster introduced the law in Parliament, he assured that the Act would be in operation for only 6 months. But it has dragged on for more than 52 years now!
The Indian state has persisted in its attempts to forcibly break Sharmila’s hunger strike. She has been detained and arrested times without number. The Manipuri people and their struggle for self-determination have been subjected to brutal repression. Not only have they been denied the right to craft their own destiny, they have also been denied the basic fundamental rights of life and liberty enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The aggressive and expansionist Indian state acquired Manipur m 1949 under extremely disputed circumstances. This undemocratic and anti-people acquisition has remained the core reason of the dissatisfaction and unrest by the people of Manipur against the Indian slate. Since then, Manipur has been witness to relentless struggles for sell-determination, which have been met by violent military response by the Indian government.
The people of Manipur have done — and continue to do — their utmost to register their protest against AFSPA. There have been naked protests by mothers, self-immolation by students, mass demonstrations, petitions to the Supreme Court, complaints to the United Nations, etc. However, the Indian state has remained unrepentant. Notwithstanding the fact that the ills of the AFSPA stand totally exposed today, it is still the law of the land. On the other hand, Sharmila who has become the icon of the protest against this draconian law is treated as a petty criminal, charged for attempting to commit suicide and the Government of India continues her detention in isolation as a high security prisoner for a decade.
Sharmila’s struggle lies not only m defending the most basic and fundamental human rights or her people, but also in questioning the very foundations of the ‘world’s biggest democracy’, which resorts to fascistic repression whenever and wherever people stand up for their rights. She is the symbol of protest against the ruling class, a beacon or hope for all people – from Dantewada to Kashmir, from Kalmganagar to Vidarbha — valiantly confronting the might of the Indian state. It is significant that although ninny national and international civil rights organizations, NGOs and even the Indian Institute of Planning and Management have showered awards and accolades on Sharmila for her courage and ‘non-violent’ protest, none of these has spoken in defence of the Manipuri people’s right to self-determination. Thus, these elite persons and organizations, while supposedly glorifying Sharmila, actually stand opposed to the very fountainhead of her struggle. It is only by building up a struggle in solidarity with the right to self-determination of peoples and nationalities across the country can we pay genuine tribute to Sharmila. It is only by unleashing a struggle to overthrow the rule of the present ruling classes and instituting a real people’s democracy in its stead can we uphold the right of the Manipuri people to self-determination.
Thus, on the 10th anniversary of Sharmila’s political fast, AIRWO pledges its solidarity with the people of Manipur and upholds their struggle against the Indian state. AIRWO calls upon all revolutionary and democratic-minded women to support Sharmila’s demands and put pressure on the Indian state to repeal the AFSPA, withdraw the military from Manipur, other north-eastern states and Jammu & Kashmir, and recognize their right to self-determination. Only then can we hope to set up an effective resistance to the Indian state’s atrocities against women and pave the way for true women’; emancipation.
Communist Party of India (MArxixt-Leninist) Manipur State Committee also pledge solidarity to Irom Sharmila on her 10 years fasting. We appealed to India Government to repealed AFSPA, save Sharmila. Otherwise we will not consider India a democratic country. We will consider India a lawless land.
Secretary, CPI(M-I,) Central Committee.
Secy. CPI (M-L) State Committee Manipur.