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Truly Gandhian

Last Updated : 07 November 2010, 16:14 IST

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It is 10 years since Irom Sharmila started her historic fast-unto-death to protest draconian legislation in effect in Manipur. Perturbed by the Assam Rifles’ gunning down of 10 innocent people at a bus stop in Malom near Imphal on November 2, 2000, Irom, then only 28, began her fast to call for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), that enabled the security forces to commit the massacre. Not a morsel of food has slipped down her throat, not a drop of water has passed through her parched lips in the past decade. Under arrest for attempting suicide, she has been kept alive through nasal drip. Irom’s fast is truly unparalleled. It is powerful, principled and peaceful. Unlike our hunger striking politicians, who start the fast with a sumptuous breakfast and stay away from food from dawn to dusk, Irom’s fast unto death is genuine and not staged for the cameras. Her fast is truly Gandhian. It is driven by her fierce commitment to truth, justice and peace. Not once over the past decade has she used her frail health to incite her supporters to engage in violence.

It is a pity that a principled protest such as the one waged by Irom has failed to move the government to act on her demands. She is not alone in calling for the repeal of AFSPA; millions of people in the Northeast, Kashmir and elsewhere in India are in solidarity with her. They are demanding the repeal of a law that vests such great power in the hands of the armed forces that it often tempts them to misuse it. Several government-appointed committees too have said AFSPA is counterproductive. Since its introduction in the Northeast, the number of militant groups has proliferated.

That Irom has had to be on a fast for 10 years and counting is a damning indictment of how insensitive and irresponsive the Indian state has become to Gandhian struggles. It has conceded demands pressed by those engaging in violence and arson but it has refused to engage with Irom, dismissing her fast as a ‘death wish’. By not responding to conflicts waged peacefully, whether it is that of Irom or that of Medha Patkar, Himanshu Kumar or the thousands of faceless Indians waging silent mutinies against injustice and oppression, the Indian state is revealing that it only understands guns and grenades. This is dangerous. Clearly, it lacks ethical fibre.

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Published 07 November 2010, 16:14 IST

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