A number of organizations across the country came together on Saturday, to support Irom Chanu Sharmila in demanding the withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1958.
A consortium of civil society organizations, under the banner "Save Democracy, Repeal AFSPA (SDRAG), organized a day-long sit-in and fast, across the country.
According to a press release by SDRAG, the day's event was in specific support of one of the longest hunger-strikes in the world. Irom Sharmila has recently completed a 11-year strike, asking for the repeal of AFSPA and an end to a 53-year long battle against military-related problems in the area.
Veteran journalist Kuldeep Nayar, participating in the demonstration at New Delhi, asked for support from the people of the country and expressed his concern over Sharmila's condition.
"Similar suppressive acts such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) were repealed because people in India stood strongly against the act. AFSPA which is still worse in its character is still in the status books of the constitution of India because people of the nation have been in silent. They have accepted this oppression as a part of their lives and have gotten normalized to it. Time has come to break this conspiracy of silence," said the National Convener of SDRAG, Rojesh Salam.
The 43-year-old Salam, who has worked with Sharmila for seven years now, reveals over a telephone conversation that following the conclusion of the ongoing signature campaign, SDRAG will submit a compilation of memorandum prepared by various frontal organizations working together on the "Save Sharmila" campaign, to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and other concerned authorities.
In Bangalore, under the aegis of SDRAG, the Manipur Meitei Association Bangalore (MMA) extended its support by organizing a day-long fast and sit-in at the Town Hall, Bangalore. The organizers, speaking to IBTimes, called for justice and the immediate withdrawal of AFSPA from various parts of the country.
"The fight for AFSPA is not only for Irom Chanu Sharmila who has been fasting for the last 11 years, we have the same responsibility as much as she had and we should support her fasting," appealed P Omprakash, President of MMA.
"The time has come to pressurize the government from various spheres of the society," said the Convenor of the Bangalore event, Roopa Singh. The Bangalore event will also submit a memorandum and the results of a mass signature campaign, launched by the MMA on Oct. 29, to the central government.
"People should work together to repeal AFSPA, changes should come through peaceful democratic and constitutional means," said another Convener Dr. Jiban Singh.
Various social organizations in Manipur, like the Film Forum Manipur (FFM), organized signature campaigns and fasts and protests against the AFSPA. L Surjakanta, the Chairperson of FFM, talking to IBTimes over the phone, said that as many as 70 artists from the local film industry were present.
Similar events were held by Orissa-based Navnirman Samriti, a civil society organization. The Assam-based Barak Valley Human Rights Committee also held fasts and demonstrations, in front of the Silchar District Collector's office.
Fasts, protests and demonstrations were held in as many as 16 cities across the country. The day was celebrated, according to SDRAG's press release, in the U.S. as well.
Meanwhile, Irom Sharmila has refused to make a statement, even to the Prime Minister.
"There was no point in telling anything to a person who had decided not to listen to anything sensible. For 11 years, the Prime Minister and others had refused to listen and they were likely to do so again," said the 39-year-old activist, in a report by The Hindu.
Irom Sharmila started her fast on Nov. 2, 2000 after the infamous Malom massacre; an incident that claimd the lives of 10 civilians. Since then, the state police have arrested her several times under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (attempted suicide). Sharmila is currently in judicial custody at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Imphal, Manipur.
Following the Malom massacre, the people of Manipur have taken to strong acts to protest against AFSPA; protests like the self-immolation of Pebam Chittaranjan, a student, in 2005, and protests by a group of nude women (outside Kangla Fort) against the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorma Devi in 2004 are the most notable of these.
Earlier, the Chief Minister of Manipur, O. Ibobi, issued a statement indicatin that AFSPA is a necessity, as it helped counter the threat of foreign militants. In contrast, the Chief Minister of Jamu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, recently demanded the withdrawal of the same act from certain parts of his state.
The Jeevan Reddy Commission, set-up in 2004, recommended the review of AFSPA, only for Pranab Mukheree, the Defense Minister at the time, to lambast the recommendation.
Check out photographs of the agitations.