After a decade, celebrities on... Anti-AFSPA bandwagon
- The Sangai Express Editorial :: August 30 2011 -

Bollywood actors, civil society groups and individuals extended support to Irom Sharmila at Ram Lila Ground , New Delhi on August 28 2011
Bollywood actors, civil society groups and individuals extended support to Irom Sharmila at Ram Lila Ground , New Delhi on August 28 2011. Pix by Seram Rojesh

More than 60 years since India attained independence and the country continues to be shackled to the mental chains of colonialism and nowhere is this mentality more manifest than the dogged continuation with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

However much the country recommits itself to the ideals of the independence movement under Mahatma Gandhi and however much Nehru's Tryst with Destiny speech continues to be the slogan of the political leaders at New Delhi, the image of a Sharmila with feeding pipes protruding from her mouth coupled with her dishevelled hair will continue to cast a long shadow on the largest democracy in the world.

For more than ten years, Sharmila's battle has been a lone struggle, with no flash bulbs popping off, no sound bytes and mostly confined within the four walls of the highly fortified security ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences.

Much like her isolated living space, her unyielding and dignified stand has remained confined to the east of the Brahmaputra. An underlining demonstration that Delhi's political idea of an India practically ends at the western banks of the Brahmaputra.

In perhaps the biggest irony of them all, Mahatma Gandhi’s India refused to take note of the ugly side of AFSPA when Sharmila launched her non-violent but heroic mission in 2000 and it was only in 2004 that the political establishment in Delhi was rudely jolted awake to the Act over the bullet riddled body of Th Manorama and the nude protests in front of Kangla, which then housed the 17 Assam Rifles, by womenfolk.

The jolt that Delhi received compelled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to fly down to Imphal and announce the constitution of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission.

That the recommendations of the Commission have been put in cold storage is a different matter, but it says something very significant that it was not the indefinite fast launched by Irom Chanu Sharmila that sent the Prime Minister here to address the grievances of the people, but the brutalised, bloodied and lifeless body of Th Manorama, the nude protest by womenfolk and the days of street protests that practically paralysed Imphal for months.

Says something about the warped sense of the people manning the country at Delhi. If this is not insulting the Father of the Nation, then Delhi must be using a different parameter to measure insults. This was in 2004 and fast forward six or seven years and what do we have ?

Sharmila seems to have entered the consciousness of some prominent citizens of the country, albeit by default and courtesy Anna Hazare. This is no doubt welcome, however it is amazing and interesting to see how the idea of Sharmila has become some sort of a fashion statement amongst the movers and shakers of the country.

On the other hand, it confounds logic that a country which boasts of a healthy and vibrant media, should suffer the same myopia that has afflicted the political class.

Why AFSPA and Sharmila has so far failed to stir a political storm in Delhi may be attributed to numerous historical and political factors as well as on how one interprets the interplay of the compulsions borne by these factors.

The job of explaining the intricacies of these factors may be best left to the social scientists, thinkers and political leaders, but there is one point that glaringly stands out and that is the question over the idea of India as a Nation.

The explanation that the middle class Indians are not aware of the finer aspects of AFSPA since it is enforced only in the North East and Kashmir and hence the obscurity to which Sharmila has been subjected to for over a decade, would be over simplifying things and it may amount to insulting the lone struggle taken up by the gutsy lady.

The longer that Sharmila and AFSPA remained outside the consciousness of the citizens of the country, the deeper the nail was hammered into the idea of Indian Nationhood.

Fasting for more than a decade, which Sharmila has been doing, is not a joke and certainly very, very news worthy.

Why Sharmila’s never say die stand had failed to figure in the consciousness of the mainstream media and the vocal middle class families of India is something which only they can answer, but it says something significant about the idea of the North East region in India’s mental framework.

It is no doubt a development that celebrities, including Amir Khan, known as one of the more cerebral actors from Bollywood, Medha Patkar one of the best known faces amongst social activists and Yogendra Yadav, one of the more articulate Sociologists have found a common cause with Sharmila and spoken out against AFSPA.

No one can refute that celebrities can add punch and muscle to any cause taken up by ordinary folks and this is the reason why the services of the late Princess Diana was roped in to become a spokesperson for landmine victims.

Live Aid courtesy Bob Geldof and USA for Africa courtesy the late Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie helped in no small measure in drawing global attention to the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-80s.

These are but some examples of celebrities donning the garb of socially conscious beings and contributing their mite in drawing the attention of the world to issues deserving the attention of mankind.

So far, so good. AFSPA is inhuman. It empowers the security forces to shoot and kill anyone in the North East and Kashmir without a shred of accountability. This Act has to go.

There is no doubt about it and personalities like Amir Khan echoing this thought is welcome.

However it is important to be able to look further and question why Delhi went ahead and imposed an Act inherited from the British Raj.

Can we expect the latest entrants to the anti-AFSPA bandwagon to raise this question ? The answer may not be forthcoming.

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