The Eighth Sister Fighting For The Rights Of The Seven Sisters

Vikram singh

Feb 25, 2005
Written by Prof. Jagmohan Singh Wednesday, July 11, 2007 Iron lady Irom Sharmila’s 7 year fast unto death: Repeal AFSPA
2,370 days without food: Repeal AFSPA
Open letter to Irom Chanu Sharmila
Dear Sister Irom Chanu Sharmila:
Greetings and salutation to your grit, integrity and commitment.

Nischay kar apni jeet karo….ensure your victory through the sheer power of your truthful determination. This exhortation by the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh has been proved true by you.

I write to you in admiration of your relentless struggle for the fundamental rights of the Manipuri people. To be on fast unto death for seven long years and to bear the agony of being force-fed through the nose, by a senseless government which has dubbed your fast as attempted suicide is a remarkable achievement. Your fortitude places you in the category of freedom-loving giants like Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Jose Ramos Horta, Bhai Randhir Singh and Baba Maharaj Singh. Your tenacity is comparable to the Sikh prisoners sent by the British authorities to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, popularly known as Kala-pani.

Your continuous incarceration in the security ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal is a disgrace to the person in whose memory the hospital has been built.

It may sound clichéd to us all but the Indian state chooses to address all political problems, particularly those related to fundamental freedoms as law and order issues. Fortunately you are alive, or else instead of tolerating your thorny attitude and personality, the Indian armed forces -against which you are protesting, would have preferred you dead.

I agree with you that the world needs to know that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, is nothing but a carte blanche to the army to kill with impunity all people demanding the right to self-determination. The army was used in Punjab and it continues to be used in the north-east and Kashmir. As they say in the English language, “call the dog mad, and shoot him”. So does the India state. “Call an area “disturbed”, kill all and sundry who do not fall in line” seems to be the Indian state’s message to the Indian army. As you know more than me, what is worse, the provisions of the Armed Forces Act make judicial review almost impossible. Moreover the actions of the world’s largest army -the Indian army are almost beyond the purview of courts and even that of the National Human Rights Commission. Even tin-pot little African countries do not function as brazenly as India does.

I am diabetic and after about 5 hours, at the sight of a morsel of food, I pounce on it. I just cannot bear to be hungry. For seven long years, you have not eaten. I have read about various instances of fasting by Indian sadhus and yogis, but to my mind what you have are doing has no parallel. Despite deteriorating health and physical condition, you continue on fast undeterred of the consequences.

In the heartless world that we live in, your only chance of achieving what you are fighting for is heavenly intervention. India is supposed to be a welfare state, but humaneness is limited only to some caring individuals. Interests of state override all feelings and emotions. Perhaps some people in the corridors of power may admire you, but they cannot “sacrifice national interest” at the behest of a frail, young woman in some godforsaken unseen distant part of the country.

When I read the comments of your mother who said that she has not seen you for the last five years for fear of weakening your determination, I was convinced about the martial qualities of your race, otherwise, today our mothers today start showing concern at the sight of the first scratch on a child’s body inflicted even while playing.

Recently, when I wrote to Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi, on her 62nd birthday, I wondered whether such a non-violent struggle was at all productive and effective. I am tempted to repeat the same in your case. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is the proclaimed “father of the nation”, whose “religion” was “ahimsa...non-violence”. If it is truly so, then why should the state torture people like you who follow non-violence? Can his memory be perpetuated by feigned Gandhigiri in films like Lagey Raho Munnabhai alone and the real and substantive creed of the Gandhian approach is to be relegated to become the most obscure part of our political activity and media reporting? The growing middle-class is happy at such films as they are not reminded of unsavoury cases like yours.

Last year, in an interview to the BBC, talking about your fast unto death, the Manipur state director general of police, AK Parashar said, “A young citizen of the country cannot be allowed to die. We have an obligation to see that she doesn’t die an unnatural death.” Does it not sound like the devil reading the scriptures? In the same interview, the Indian defence minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee said, “The AFSPA is to stay. It is difficult for the armed forces to function without it.” He is so right, isn’t it? Recently, the present Defence Minister, Mr. A. K. Antony said, “the time has not come for the total repeal of the Act. However, if there is scope for amendments to make it more humane, we are not against amending it.” Has not the minister clearly accepted that heretofore numerous acts under this Act have not been humane?

You know more than me. It is the same Indian army which conducted Operation Woodroose in Punjab after storming the Golden Temple in June 1984. It is the same army which registered sedition cases against columnists like Brahma Chellaney and attempted to imprison civil liberties experts like Aurobindo Ghose, V. M. Tarkunde and others when they published reports of army atrocities in the countryside of Punjab in 1984-85.

I am also aware that some Sikh army personnel, either on their own or under orders from their superiors have indulged in gross human rights violations in various parts of the north-east. These personnel are recognizable as Sikhs, but they have lost their traits of truthfulness, compassion and respect for human life and dignity. I appeal to you to pass on this message to all your fellow brethren that these Sikh army personnel are not representatives of the Sikh nation and that their deeds are in no way a reflection on the Sikh nation’s views about the right to self-determination of various nationalities of the South East Himalayan region, which the Indian government prefers to call India’s “North East”.
Though not large, a cross-section of the Sikh people is committed to achieve the right to self-determination for every one, whomsoever so desires. I respect your right to freedom and am consciously aware of the manner in which various regions of the north-east were annexed to India. Your people lost their independence after defeat in the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891 and the Sikhs lost theirs in the Anglo-Sikh War of 1849. Both nations share a legacy of bravery and treachery. Both nations are still reeling under brown imperialism but our yearning for freedom continues to flicker with some glimmer of hope.
You belong to a separate race of people and have no similarity with the majority of people from the Aryan race. The Sikhs have a common brotherhood with the people of the Indo-Gangetic plain, but their theo-political status is separate and unique. As the British parliament a few decades back opined, “The Sikhs are almost a race, almost a nation.” Like your people, the Sikhs too are fighting an ongoing battle against cultural and socio-political assimilation against India’s Hindi-speaking majority.
Almost a decade back, I was invited to Gauhati, by Parag Das, human rights activist and the then Editor of Assamese newspaper, Assomiya Pratidin to address a conference on human rights violations in Assam and the north-east. A large number of women participated in the conference, unlike their thin presence in the political conferences in Panjab. All the women virtually spent the whole day on an empty stomach, satisfied with some grams and water provided by the organizers. Your fast has often reminded me of their resilience. At every call that I gave for strengthening the self-determination movement across the Indian sub-continent, their applause was overwhelming. Tragically, sometime later, my friend Parag Das was gunned down by police vigilantes who were uncomfortable with his Assamese nationalist work.
According to statistics provided by the Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. Lbobi Singh, since 1980, when Manipur was declared a disturbed area, over 12,000 insurgents have been killed. Obviously most of them have been killed extrajudicially.
The Indian state is quiet shameless when it comes to the rights of people. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act was enacted in 1958 for one year as an emergency measure. 49 years have passed but those twelve months have still not been completed. In a scathing rebuttal to the Indian army, women activists stripped before the headquarters of the Assam Rifles at Kangla Fort on 15 July 2004, to protest at the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Indian army. Sadly, it did not bestir the political masters to take notice. There is no gainsaying the fact that virtually all provisions of this Act violate the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and India’s obligation to uphold the same in its own legal system and practice, because India’s ruthlessness knows no empathy.
Your decision to continue your fast till the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is repealed is praiseworthy. I wish you well. We should all live up to celebrate that day, sooner than later, when you eat your first morsel in many years and I think you should take it from the hands of your ageing mother, who continues to suffer with you.
Your steadfastness will surely bear fruit. It is indeed courageous of you and inspiring for others to say that, “Life and death is in the hands of God. But my position is clear. I will not back out. Truth will triumph, no matter whether the struggle is long or short.”

It will not be wrong to call your present state, ‘a near-death experience’. How you are living, only you can tell. I can only imagine. I can only guess with awe and respect. I can only pray that through the sheer force of your determination, you will win…nischay kar apni jeet karo. While the Indian government charts out a roadmap to kill and maim people with impunity, sometimes replacing this programme with the grandiose plan of peace and development in Manipur and other areas of the north-east, we need to setout a concerted movement for the right to self-determination for all ethnic peoples and nationalities.

Rab Rakha….May God look after you.
Jagmohan Singh

Jagmohan Singh is a social, political, health and human rights activist. He may be contacted at \n