In Solidarity With Irom Sharmila
Irom Sharmila recently spoke at her first public event outside Manipur since the end of her remarkable sixteen-year long fast. The North-East Forum for International Solidarity (NEFIS) organised a seminar on “AFSPA and the People’s Movement” at the Delhi School of Social Work on 30th September. The event took place to commemorate the iconic social reformist, political leader and revolutionary, Hijam Irabot on his 120th birth anniversary. Irabot’s legacy and acute vision was reiterated at the seminar to help further the battle against AFSPA.
That Irabot was a part of our freedom movement is not widely known; one only hears about the freedom fighters in mainland India. Irabot’s sensitivity and resolve to fight injustices and oppression can also be seen in the quiet dignity and perseverance of Irom Sharmila. His three-tiered fight was against the nexus of the colonial state, the ruling class of Manipur, as well as the emerging capitalist class. Historian and Women’s Rights activist Dr. Maya John, also a part of the panel, rightly stated that this nexus is present till today as we are “reeling under the façade of democracy.” Irabot was also involved in the Nupi Lan movement, which saw the massive participation and protest by women against the British Raj. It led to his radicalisation following his imprisonment thereafter. He then became an important member of the Communist Party of India, and was committed to the need to build equality. Irabot was sensitive to the commonality of various struggles against overpowering forces. He saw that all struggles share a link, and that one must combine them, and join hands, in order to be a part of a shared struggle. With violence, intolerance, casteism and inherent inequality pervading our lives, this call for a shared struggle, a common cause, is of immense value. It is with this in mind that Hijam Irabot’s keen vision can provide an impetus to the larger battle that requires solidarity in order to expose this façade of democracy.
Irom Sharmila has faced severe criticism for ending her fast. Her individual efforts have at times been unfairly dismissed and undermined. Her decision to end the fast is also misunderstood as a sign of giving up. If anything, Sharmila has only strengthened in her will to defy AFSPA. As Nivedita Sundar, the third panelist stated, it takes great courage to change strategy the way Sharmila did. Sharmila is now going to continue her fight against the draconian law from within the system, as she will be contesting the polls in Manipur.
Irom Sharmila’s courageous and determined spirit radiates from a body that is still weak. Nonetheless, and despite the sweltering afternoon heat, Sharmila stood on the podium and addressed the crowd with dignity. She spoke very slowly, each word weighed down by the pain and struggle of the past sixteen years, but also holding a depth of meaning and a firm resolve.
She stressed on the need to turn her act of individual dissent into a mass movement. For this she appealed to the youth, “the mirror of society”, to take forward the fight for repealing AFSPA, a draconian law whose imposition is the reflection of meaningless governance that fails to connect and engage with society.
And how can one take this forward? Not only is a mass people’s movement the need of the hour, but also reform from within. It is when we have mutual love, respect, compassion and understanding in our day-to-day interactions and relationships, and when the natural world and our surroundings are left undisturbed by greed and violence, that we can move forward towards a humane society. It is conscience alone that can provide guidance, she said. Invoking Irabot, Sharmila said that we must join hands bodily and mentally to make a difference.
It is through both collective and individual action, as well as the merger of all struggles against the farcical actions that are an excuse for democracy, that we can hope for the repealing of AFSPA. We must join Irom Sharmila and make her solitary struggle a collective mass struggle.
To learn further about the life and contributions of Hijam Irabot read here.
To know more about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) see the pdf attached below, or read here.
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