In the month of August, 2016, Irom Sharmila Chanu, also known as the ‘Iron Lady’ and ‘Mengoubi’ (the fair one) announced that she would break her 16 year long hunger fast, which she commenced as a protest against the imposition of AFSPA (Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act) by the Indian state on the tiny hilly state of Manipur. While some cheered, others were curious, and many shocked and angry at what they perceived as her betrayal of the Manipuri cause. The backlash from her community was quick and ferocious, and newspaper headlines carried titillating stories of how she was rejected by her ‘own’.
While much has been written on Sharmila’s hunger strike, her breaking of the fast, and entry into electoral politics, there has not been an equal amount of discussion on the politics of gender. For instance, the fact that Sharmila’s location in the North-Eastern part of the country has been central to her marginalization and non-acknowledgement, or that the mainstream media’s highlighting of her predicament, post-hunger strike, reinforced stereotypes of Manipur as the ‘wild’ and ‘savage’ North East has received considerable attention.
We may have differences in our political approach as to the way and means of the struggle, but what must be stated at the outset is the fact that Irom Sharmila has certainly been an icon of resistance and inspiration in the struggle against AFSPA.
Her 16 year long hunger strike has been a grim reminder of the crimes against the Manipuri people – rape, torture, fake encounters and massacres – committed by the armed forces with impunity under such draconian Acts like AFSPA. But her abrupt decision to end her fast accompanied with her willingness to contest elections in the upcoming assembly elections have met with a mixture of shock, scepticism, disappointment, puzzlement and even anger amongst her people in Manipur and even her close associates. There also seems to be a resentment against her being in a relationship and her plan to marry. Such scrutiny/dragging of her personal life are, however, quite deplorable. But overall, the disappointment with the decision of Irom to quit fasting and contest elections is so strong that, after breaking her fast in the hospital, when she tried to go to a local activist’s shelter, the locals disapproved. She had to seek temporary shelter in an ISKCON temple along with her police guards and then was shifted to a police station and finally she was forced to retreat to the same hospital that housed her for last 16 years. Now, this is telling. But what does it tell? The answer to this question would take us away from criticisms about any particular individual, but to the evaluation of the very method of struggle that she had been a part of, its scope, effectivity and limitations.
Violent thoughts and deeds are increasingly getting justified in the name of Indian nation. A mob of lawyers has attacked students, teachers and journalists, right in the middle of a court complex in the national capital. Leaders of these patriotic lawyers were later caught bragging on camera about how they will next time throw bombs on anti-nationals. A young woman in Delhi has received emails and face book posts threatening her with acid attack and sexual assault, because she happens to be a sister of Umar Khalid, one of the organisers of the JNU programme, during which according to police anti-India slogans were raised. The mere being of this woman, and her defence of her brother, is enough of a provocation for many men and women of the country to justify the threat of ultimate male violence against women. Another man, Mr Adarsh Sharma put posters in the central district of the capital announcing an award of Rs 11 lakh for anyone who kills Mr Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the JNUSU, charged with sedition. Mr Sharma claims that his ‘blood boiled’ when he saw Mr Kumar’s much publicised speech after his release on bail. The popular movie Pyasa (1957) of Gurudutt had a song ‘Jinhen Naz hai Hind par vo kahaan hain’, which used the reality of social degradation to question celebrations of the nation. Sahir’s poem worked because it asked Indians to look at themselves in the mirror of public morality of the recently independent India. That mirror has been cracked for long. With the brazenly violent now claiming that their violence and threat to violence should really be the pride of the nation, we are now witnessing the final shattering of that mirror. Continue reading Nation and its Violences: Sanjay Kumar→
Guest Post by a group of Concerned Individuals from Manipur
We, the undersigned, are appalled by the conduct of the present regime against Jawaharlal Nehru University where students are being hunted down for debating on an issue which is also close to the heart of Manipur.
There is critical need for deepening dialogue on the very idea of India so that many nations and nationalities have space for their expressions rather than stifling them within a very narrow definition of India. There are very few institutions in India where such a debate can take place, and a healthy debate will allow India to be critical of itself ensuring a more vibrant multicultural and multi-national India.
We strongly believe that universities must be non-militarized spaces where students and teachers are able to freely engage on topics such as the one that took place in JNU. They must not be suppressed ideologically and militarily in the name of national security. Back here, there is military occupation in the heart of Manipur University. Yes, in the name of security. And it is time the military completely withdraws away from the sites of learning and knowledge.
Violence and the accompanying disruption of everyday life in Manipur is not a recent phenomenon. This year too, the state was plunged into a spiral of violence following demands for the implementation of Inner Permit Line, a law originating in the colonial period. This demand is based on real or imagined fears that Manipur, like Sikkim and Tripura, would be overwhelmed by the ‘outsiders’ and that the ‘indigenous people’ of Manipur would become a minority in their homeland. Such demands are neither new nor surprising in this part of the world, where a nearly-unfathomable ethnic, demographic and political jigsaw puzzle was created by British colonialism; one that was deepened by even more myopic and inconsistent policy in the post-colonial years. However, this year, following the death of a young student by police firing during a student protest in Imphal, the movement demanding the Inner Line Permit (ILP) gained considerable momentum in Manipur. Subsequently, the legislature was forced to introduce three bills in the Manipur State Legislative Assembly on 28th August, 2015, ensuring the implementation of Inner Line Permit in the state. This in turn triggered another wave of violence with the ‘tribals’ and tribal organizations opposing the three bills, eventually bringing life to a standstill in the state.