All ears for Hazare, deaf to Sharmila’s crusade

Imphal, Aug. 19 : Manipur’s lone human rights crusader Irom Sharmila is being compared to Anna Hazare, champion of the anti-corruption movement, but rights activists in Manipur expressed “anguish” over the different responses given to the two iconic campaigners. “When Anna Hazare went on hunger strike for a couple of days the whole country came out in support and even Parliament was rocked. Sharmila is fasting for more than 10 years seeking the right to life and still Parliament remains silent and the mainland keeps mum. This is because Sharmila belongs to the Northeast,” Babloo Loitongbam, director of Human Rights Alert, Manipur, said. Loitongbam’s sentiment echoes the “feelings” and “anguish” of the rights activists who gathered at Manipur Press Club today to renew their support for Sharmila’s fight for repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. The gathering organised by Just Peace Foundation, Imphal, was to mark completion of the 54th year of enforcement of the act in the Northeast. Sharmila began her hunger strike in November 2000 demanding repeal of the army act in the wake of killing of 10 civilians, including women, by troops of the Assam Rifles at Malom in Imphal West in retaliation to a militant attack. Parliament passed the act granting the armed forces extraordinary power, including use of force on suspicion to the extent of causing death, on this day in 1958 to fight Naga militants in the then Naga hills. The Manipur government on September 9, 1980, promulgated the act, following step-ped up militant activities. The act was gradually extended to other parts of the Northeast. “All justice-loving people of Manipur are extending their full support to Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign. Our only hope is that all citizens of the country, who want civil rights and right to live restored, will also come forward and join hands with the people of the Northeast against this draconian act,” Loitongbam said. Irom Shinghajit, elder brother of Sharmila and managing trustee of Just Peace Foundation, also slammed what he termed “racial discrimination” towards the people of the region by the Centre. “Neither the Indian government nor any other citizen of the country consider people from the region as citizens of the country. So Sharmila’s struggle could not make an impact on them (mainland Indians),” Sinhajit said. Former Manipur Human Rights Commission member Yambem Laba and the convener of Committee for Organisation, Research and Education, Bobby Roy, released a report — The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 in Manipur and other states of the Northeast of India: Sanctioning repression in violation of India’s human rights obligations. The 38-page report, jointly prepared by Human Rights Alert, Manipur, London-based rights group Redress and Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, urged the Centre to repeal the act immediately and investigate and prosecute rights violators. The report also appealed to the UN Human Rights Commission to seek a report from the Union government on the human rights situation in the country.