Irom Sharmila completes 10 years



                                                                               Newsletter Sept - Dec 2010

In November 2010, Irom Sharmila completed an incredible ten years of her fast against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. To mark the occasion, the Just Peace Foundation organised a two day seminar attended by activists from various parts of the North East the rest of the country, who spoke out against the AFSPA, the deeply problematic role of the State as well as the deep interconnections between this and other black laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, etc.

At the seminar and in public fora that ranged from theatre performances to cycle rallies to large public meetings in stadia, thousands of women and men from all over India, and more especially all over Manipur, pledged to stand strong in their support of Irom Chanu Sharmila and continue to fight the AFSPA. Yet, delegates of the peace meetings were denied the right to meet Sharmila or even hold a music concert to celebrate the right to freedom of expression and dissent. A press conference was held and public statements were issued, and a resolution was passed to keep up the pressure against AFSPA through every available opportunity.

One such opportunity presented itself within days of these events. The UPA Chairperson and AICC President, Ms Sonia Gandhi was scheduled to visit the Imphal valley and a public letter was immediately issued urging her to acknowledge Irom Sharmila’s struggle and keep up the promise of her government to do away with the AFSPA. Signed by almost 100 activists, academicians, students, researchers, grassroots workers, National Advisory Council members and others, this letter was also personally hand delivered to Ms Gandhi. Yet it is telling that while the appeal was fairly well covered by the press in Manipur it received no response from either Ms Gandhi or her government. The letter is reproduced below.

Irom Sharmila completes 10 years of hunger fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.


Over the last few weeks the Manipur valley has been paying tribute to 10 years of the relentless struggle of the Imphal-based poet, Irom Chanu Sharmila, against the AFSPA. In response, the government of Manipur has systematically disrupted peaceful public meetings and banned rallies and concerts that were being attended by people from all over the country who had met to honour Irom Sharmila and reiterate their long-standing demand for the immediate repeal of the AFSPA - a draconian law that has been in force in many parts of the North East as well as Kashmir for almost 60 years now and left a terrible legacy of killings, torture, disappearances, rape, and many other crimes committed with impunity.

For too long, the government has turned a blind eye to excesses by the armed forces committed under AFSPA. For too long, it has refused to implement the recommendations of several of its own Committees – from the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to the 2nd Administrative Reforms Committee – to repeal AFSPA. For too long it has suppressed peaceful voices of protest like that of Irom Sharmila by holding her in solitary confinement, without rights of visitation granted even to convicted criminals in the country.

On November 12, 2010 Chairperson, UPA and AICC President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, is scheduled to visit the Manipur valley to inaugurate some developmental projects and a Congress Bhawan Annexe Building. But it seems that like the government she heads, Ms Gandhi has no time or inclination to listen to the voices of the people of Manipur, or indeed to live up to the promises made by her own government – after all, on 2 December 2006, PM Manmohan Singh promised the speedy removal of the AFSPA at the historic Kangla Fort from where she will now address a public meeting.

As Chairperson, National Advisory Council, we urge Ms Gandhi to go beyond political affiliations by meeting Irom Sharmila on her current visit, and initiate proceedings to end the undemocratic way in which Irom Sharmila’s liberty and freedom of speech have been taken away from her.

As democratic voices, peoples’ organisations, women’s and students groups and concerned individuals we demand that if Ms Gandhi truly wishes to do something for the people of the region, she must not remain silent on the spate of aggressions by the state government in the valley and hill areas, especially over the last year. She cannot visit the region and fail to initiate a political dialogue with the people. She cannot ignore the impact of militarisation by the State that dominates peoples’ lives. She cannot remain silent on AFSPA anymore.