Newsletter Sep 2011 - Apr 2012

On 5th November 2011, Irom Sharmila’s indefinite fast for the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act,(AFSPA) 1958 entered its 12th year. To mark the occasion and to support Irom Sharmila and her incredible struggle against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), members of many organisations and individuals came together under the banner of SAVE DEMOCRACY, REPEAL AFSPA and for a day long fast 5th November 2011 at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Similar programmes were held in several other cities all over the country. From Calicut to Kolkata, Ahmedahabad to Allahabad to Srinagar, the people were speaking out against AFSPA. In Delhi, the programme was marked by an energetic day of songs, speeches, poster making and releasing of balloons symbolically as lifting of the draconian act and liberation from the atrocities of AFSPA.

The beginning of Irom Sharmila’s indefinite fast goes back to November 2000, when Sharmila witnessed the massacre of ten persons by security forces in Malom, a village near Imphal. The perpetrators were not punished as they were protected under the AFSPA. Since then Irom Sharmila’s peaceful struggle demanding the repeal of AFSPA continues. During these 12 years, many protests and demonstrations have taken place against the misuse of AFSPA against innocent people. Since even before this incident, we at Saheli have been part of the struggle against this law which allows virtual military rule and offers impunity to its officers to kill on mere ‘suspicion’ of anti national activity.

Other landmark protests dot the historic journey of peoples’ protest against AFSPA. On 15th July 2004, about a dozen middle aged women protested nude in front of 17, Assam Rifles, Kangla Fort, Imphal. Though their immediate objective was to bring public attention to the illegal capturing of Thangjam Manorama by Assam Rifles followed by her rape, sexual torture and brutal murder, it was also a way to bring to public notice the cold blooded killings and sexual abuse of women under militarized situations prevailing in Manipur. The women who played a historical role in this protest later came to Delhi under the banner of Apunba Lup to pressurise the central government that they repeal the draconian AFSPA. As in the case of Irom Sharmila who had also come to Delhi in 2002 to further her campaign, this time many organizations, students from colleges and other individuals came forward in their support and openly spoke against the violation of democratic rights under laws like AFSPA. On 2 December 2006, PM Manmohan Singh promised the speedy removal of AFSPA, a promise that has not been fulfilled so far.

In November 2009, an independent Citizens’ Fact Finding came together to examine allegations of fake killings and illegal detentions in the State by looking at few cases and the response of state machinery to these allegations. According to media reports and human rights activists, Imphal and other hill districts have had about 300 extra judicial killings since January 2010. The team comprised of Dr. K.S. Subramanian, I.P.S. (retd.) formerly of Manipur Tripura Cadre, Sumit Chakravarty, Editor, Mainstream, Kavita Srivastva, human rights activist and National Secretary of PUCL and Vasundhara

Jairath of Delhi Solidarity group. In its report, titled, ‘Democracy Encountered: Rights Violations in Manipur’, the team unequivocally recommended the repeal of AFSPA, a thorough probe into each encounter, strict enforcement of NHRC guidelines with regard to encounters, and transparency in public reports of all magisterial enquiries. It also recommended revocation of NSA and false charges on democratic rights activists and demanded a meaningful dialogue to address their grievances and demands and provide rehabilitation for affected families and last but not the least, end Irom Sharmila’s custody and restore her civil liberties. 

Last year too, when Irom Sharmila completed 10 years of her fast against AFSPA, the Just Peace Foundation (Imphal) organized a two day seminar attended by activists from various parts of the North East and the rest of the country, who spoke out against the AFSPA. At the Seminar and in public fora that ranged from theatre performances to cycle rallies to large public meetings, thousands of men and women from all over the country pledged themselves to stand strong in support of Irom Sharmila and continue to fight against AFSPA. A public letter was personally handed over to Ms. Sonia Gandhi during her visit to Imphal during the same time, signed by about hundred activists, academicians, students, researchers, National Advisory Council members and others, to acknowledge the struggle of Irom Sharmila and keep up the promise of her government. Though the appeal was well covered by the local media in Imphal, it received no response from either Ms. Gandhi or her government.

But the struggle must go on. Against undemocratic laws like AFSPA. Against an insensitive and adamant state that refuses to respond to peaceful struggle, the recommendations of eminent persons as well its own committees that have recommended the repeal of AFSPA. We also stand in solidarity with other voices that speak out against repressive laws. We salute Irom Sharmila for the longest peaceful and non-violent Satyagraha in the history of world.