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Radical Views
M C Raj
Resilience personified - Irom Sharmila 09 November, 2012
India treats the people of North East as second-class citizens without much respect. And Irom Sharmila, a symbol of the surging anger against uncontainable atrocities and denial of dignity and rights, is exposing the inability of a boasting government to govern her people in an inclusive way.

IROM SHARMILA is a living symbol of many buried aspirations. She effectively symbolizes the protest and the need for protest against the type of misgovernance that a huge nation like India can hand out to her citizens in the name of democracy. She is the signpost of the need for dissent in democracy. She is also the tip of the iceberg that lays buried in a vast ocean of women power against mindless exploitation and oppression of a people with their specific identity and culture.

The first time I landed in Imphal some 15 years ago it was a sort of shock that generally one does not witness in a democracy. Is democracy also an illusion? It was difficult to wish away the thought amidst the flag march of military men on the otherwise peaceful streets. Were the people given an assurance that the military was being used to protect them? Not at all! It was the other way. People were frightened to their last nerve at the sight of the military men who could get hold of any young and good looking girl to make a sexual feast for themselves in their barracks.

The beasts that had military uniform were ruthlessly undisciplined. The women of Manipur had to bare their breasts and expose their genitals to the military men demanding to be raped in the gates of their camp. If they did not get a girl they were pouncing on young men to satiate their thirst for raw blood. They can kill at their will the people of North East.

Before we go into the underlying issues of North East we need to recognize and appreciate this great woman of history who has espoused a cause not out of any compulsion nor out of a bloated ego, not guided by any ideology or ism but simply out of a spontaneous rise of emotive love for her people, especially for the women of North East. The one evil that egged her on to give a fight to the finish is the draconian measure of the Indian Government, the freehand given to Indian military terrorism. The name is AFSPA, Armed Forces Special Powers Act. She has manifested unprecedented courage.

The ‘enemy’ she faces is the anaconda that can easily devour a people with their rights and dignity and pretend as if nothing has happened to anyone. Surviving 12 long years with force-feeding by the state administration not to let her die only because it will bring a bad name to the government is not an easy joke. Very symbolic – not allowing the people to live, not allowing them to die.

No doubt that North East is strategically very significant for India to prevent easy Chinese aggression. Geographical positioning! We have no grudge against the government of India on that score. In fact preventing external aggression and protecting the borders of the nation is the legitimate duty of the army. But why heap so much of indignity and inflict violence on the people of North East? They have nothing to do with external aggression of enemy forces.

America has very easily changed the role of military all over the world from protecting nations from enemy aggression to suppressing the democratic aspirations of people within the borders of the nation. Any unrest within nations is dealt with ruthlessly by the use of armed forces. The Military becomes the biting dog of the government vis-à-vis its own citizens.

Why the unrest? In 1971 when Indira Gandhi let loose the Indian Army on the Pakistani military in support of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and created Bangladesh she was hailed as the strongest woman Prime Minister of the world. Rightly so! We had deep appreciation for Madam Indira Gandhi. But that was only till we knew what happened to the people of Tripura in the name of ethnic swamping. Mujib and Indira entered into an agreement that Hindus living in the then Bangladesh should be taken into India and Muslims living in West Bengal should be sent to East Bengal (Bangladesh). It would have been fairer if Madam Gandhi had brought the Hindus from Bangladesh and settled them in West Bengal. But what she did was to settle all the Hindu Bengalis in Tripura. The consequence? The Indigenous people of Tripura became a minority of only 30% as the newly settled Bengalis became the majority with 70%. From then on the people of Tripura have become strangers in their own country.

The natural resources of North East, rich in forest wealth, were plundered easily to be used in mainland India. What did India give in return to the people of North East? A step motherly attitude denying their rights, economic development and denial of dignity and rights! All these were the residues of a dominant democracy imbibed evangelically from capitalistic nation state formation. Added to their woe was the systematic denial of their rights at the UN by the government of India totally refusing to accept the existence of Indigenous People in India. The lingering doubt in many people’s mind is that whether India treats people of North East in such inhuman way just because they have converted to Christianity in large numbers.

Whatever that may be, branding of the youth of North East as militants and killing them is a bye product of its own misgovernance of the people of the region. The mechanisms are the same in Kashmir too. Reduce people with different identity to mere shit, they begin to protest and retaliate when they can, brand them as terrorists, introduce the Army into their daily life, take the shit out of them by terrorising them and legitimize state violence as a counter step to terrorist outfits. Country after country, all over the world this is stereotyped and yet most people in the world believe that the State is the legitimate upholder of people’s rights. Keep blaming the people for all their internal dissensions when they try to organize themselves.

Irom Sharmila is a big reminder to the entire world of how the state behaves with its citizens in unjust and mean ways. While it can easily understand the point of Irom, the Indian government has opted to make her dead even while keeping her alive. That she is not allowed either to die or to live her life is a grim reminder to all citizens of India as to how the nation state can turn completely callous and ruthless when it comes to safeguarding the interests of the dominant class it tries to safeguard.

Irom Sharmila may be living her life much against her wish, but in that very vegetable life she reminds every citizen of India of the abysmal level to which Indian democracy and governance has lowered itself. In as much as Indian citizens refuse to see this reality they are writing the edict of doom for their future generations.

The way the rest of India keeps such calculated indifference to the fate that has befallen Irom Sharmila and North East reminds me of what is very commonly quoted everywhere: First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I do hope that we shall write an obituary for Sharmila when she dies, as we have been quite indifferent to the cause that she has espoused. I am sure that Nobel Prize and other awards will be an insult on her as we have been silent spectators of the way the Indian government is dancing on the living bodies of the people the North East.

Governance has to be done by elected members, Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. AFSPA has subverted it and has roped in military in the mechanism of governance. This is not democracy and this is not democratic governance. The sooner the Government of India withdraws AFSPA and all draconian laws, the better will be democracy and governance. Contradictions of Indian democracy – one woman fasting helplessly as a protest and another woman containing the protest with arrogant military power at her disposal!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
M C Raj is a human rights activist and award-winning author of more than 18 books. He has initiated a national campaign for proportionate electoral system, popularly known as CERI, in India. He is deeply involved in Climate Change issues.
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