Attend to this fast

There is a stark contrast in the way India has responded to the fast by Anna Hazare and that by Irom Sharmila. Anna’s fast received 24/7 coverage by the media. For over a fortnight reportage of Anna’s fast was relentless; it was as though nothing else happened in the country during that period. Tens of thousands flocked to the venue of the fast not only to express solidarity with Anna’s anti-corruption campaign but also to be a part of an event that had become media spectacle. The government too sat up. Several delegations were sent to negotiate with the Gandhian and to get him to halt the fast. An anxious government eventually conceded Anna’s demands. However, few outside India’s northeast are even aware of Sharmila, who has been on a fast unto death for the past 11 years, demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Sharmila has been kept alive through nasal drip administered to her by the Indian armed forces. Every two weeks jail officials produce Sharmila before the court to seek an extension of her judicial custody on charges of trying to commit suicide. Unlike Hazare who was surrounded by thousands of his supporters, Sharmila is held in a prison hospital. Even her family members are kept away from her and they must get court permission to visit her.

The AFSPA gives the armed forces the power to shoot-at-sight or arrest without warrant. It provides legal immunity to the armed forces operating in the northeast. It is this draconian law that Sharmila wants repealed. The entire northeast is behind her demand. Sadly the rest of India isn’t paying attention to their call. 

Unlike corruption that touches every Indian, AFSPA’s deadly impact is felt only in India’s conflict zones. Consequently, calls for its repeal have not resounded elsewhere in the country. It is a pity that injustice perpetrated in regions far away from the nation’s capital does not stir Delhi from its slumber or strike a chord with us ‘mainlanders’. This must change. Northeasterners are Indians and we must empathise with each other’s suffering. We must make their cause our own and champion it the way we did the anti-corruption campaign. Just because it doesn’t affect us directly doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue of serious concern. Delhi must respond to Sharmila’s call.

Comments (+)