The All India Revolutionary Women’s Organisation (AIRWO) salutes Irom Sharmila Chanu, the uncompromising warrior against AFSPA – the draconian, rape and murder endorsing law – the impunity of the armed forces and state terror on women and other civilians.
Irom Sharmila, who launched an iconic hunger strike in November 2000 with the demand to revoke AFSPA, broke her 16-year-old fast yesterday with the pledge to continue her battle for the repeal of AFSPA albeit in a different form. She had begun the indefinite hunger strike on November 2, 2000 after the Malom massacre in a small village on the outskirts of Imphal, in which 10 people were killed by a government-controlled paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles.
AIRWO asserts that far from being a failure, Irom Sharmila’s historic hunger strike has contributed immeasurably to bringing the limelight on a law that has maimed, disappeared, molested, raped and killed thousands in all states it has been implemented over the past decades. It has slowly but steadily triggered a nationwide outrage against the nefarious criminal offences committed by army personnel in the name of ‘protecting’ ‘disturbed areas’. It has sparked international furore and generated debate on the impunity of the armed forces in areas of conflict. It has also, undoubtedly, inspired the recent Supreme Court ruling for ending impunity of the armed forces, a judgment much welcomed by people living in the so-called ‘disturbed areas’ of our northeastern states and Kashmir, as well as by all democratic sections of society. That the government has remained, apparently, supremely unperturbed by all these developments reflects on the abysmal folly and dismal failure of an elected government to come to terms with its own people and, is in no way, a reflection of the futility of Sharmila’s struggle.
The end of the hunger strike coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Quit India movement, a day of remembrance for India’s struggle for freedom against the British. Thus, the end of Sharmila’s hunger strike is certainly not a call to lay down arms, but rather the beginning of a renewed offensive against AFSPA and similar draconian anti-people, anti-movement laws.
While it is true that if all democratic sections of society had united in support of Irom Sharmila in the course of her lonely battle of 16 years, perhaps the outcome would have been different; at the same time the end of her hunger strike is also an appropriate occasion for all champions and proponents of civil rights, and women’s rights in particular, to redeem our pledged liberty not just in full measure but also very substantially.
This is certainly not the time to criticize Sharmila for withdrawing her hunger strike and declaring her intention to contest in the forthcoming elections in Manipur in 2017. It would be wise to remember that when one takes on the might of the armed, bureaucratic state, nor form of struggle can be shoved out of consideration.
AIRWO calls upon all women and all struggling sections of society to take forward Sharmila’s unfinished battle and unleash a furious offensive against state terror in all its embodiments – be it AFSPA or military rule in Kashmir – and call for an absolute end to the state’s targeting of women’s bodies in its heinous war against its own people.