To express solidarity support with Irom Sharmila’s fast and protest against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the North East and Kashmir, People’s Solidarity Concrens-Bangalore (a forum of radical activists, human rights and political groups which includes the New Socialist Alternative) organized a series of programmes on 26th November. This included screening of a film, talk by Babloo Loitongbam and a protest at Town Hall (well known protest point in Bangalore) that was attended by about 500 people, mostly students.
Film Screening & Speech by Babloo Loitongbam
The film screenings were organized at SCM hall run by Student Christian Movement (an active supporter in many pro-people campaigns). Films shown included screening of “Tales from the Margins” by Kavita Joshi on the extrordinary struggle of the people of Manipur, especially women, taking on the military might of the Indian state.
Later the programme was introduced by Jagadish G Chandra (a leading full time member of the New Socialist Alternative CWI–India). Jagadish discribed Irom Sharmila’s fast as a symbol of struggle, not just against the AFSPA, but for the struggling people of the entire world. Nowhere in the history of the world or any struggle for that matter has anybody fasted for over 11 years & now entering into the 12th year, which only showed the tenacity to go on untill the AFSPA is repealed.
Babloo Loitongbam, of the Human Rights Alert and close associate of Irom Sharmila for many years, spoke about the history of the AFSPA in the North East in general and Manipur in particular, also dealing with the current political debates happening around the issue. AFSPA in fact carries a special symbolic significance to the Indian Freedom struggle and was in fact introduced by the British the day after the Indian National Congress under Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement against the British rule in India on 14th August, 1942.
The people of Manipur were never really allowed to express their right to self determination and were forcefully merged with India after independence without due respect to any democratic processes. The AFSPA was once again introduced back into the statutes book in the 50’s in response to the Naga insurgency and later slowly started to spread to other areas of the North East (including Manipur in the 70’s) to quell any form of dissent that the Indian state saw as a threat to its very existence.
If the AFSPA is not stopped now it will be only a matter of time before it is introduced in the mainland states like in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orrisa, West Bengal and others that have been hit by Maoist insurgency. AFSPA instead of controlling the so called insurgency has in fact become part of the problem rather than the solution. Neither the insurgents nor the people of the North East are fighting the Indian state with the idea of overthrowing it but because of the historic injustice and discrimination that is being meted out by the Indian state through brute force.
So Irom Sharmila is in a way reiterating what many government appointed bodies like the Justice Jeevan Reddy committee or Verappa Moily (currently a Union Minister) and others who have gone on record saying that AFSPA has to go. However, the Indian state especially its armed forces continues to remain adamant and Irom Sharmila is being treated worse than the most hardened criminal in the country despite the fact that her act of civil disobediance has not threatened a single soul anywhere.
Incidently, the day also coincided with the arrival of a group of activist led by Faisal Khan (NAPM) who are on a extraordinary yathra from Ahmedbad all the way to Hazratbal in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) campaigning to repeal AFSPA and spreading the solidarity message across the length and breadth of the country. Faisal Khan also spoke of their experiences both from the first leg of their yathra which was from Srinagar (J&K) to Imphal (Manipur) covering 12 states of India and who are now on their second leg of their campaign.
Faisal especially touched upon the different ways the activists were trying to connect with the masses especially on a sensitive topic like the AFSPA and garnering the support of the most ordinary people of India.
The Protest at Town Hall
Over 500 people gathered during the evening at Town Hall braving a rainy wheather with slogans like “AFSPA…Repeal! Repeal!” “Indian Army Go Back!” and other catchy slogans. The protestors were addressed by pro-people political activists like Sardar Ahmed Qureshi (Tippu Sultan United Front), Babbaih (People’s Democratic Front), Jagadish G Chandra and other activists like Narashimaiah (AHIND), Faisal Khan, Khaleed Waseem (Human Rights Activists) and finally a closing speech by Babloo Loitongbam. Speeches were mingled with inspiring songs sung by Sumathi, Deepa Girish (New Socialist Alternative) and also a beautiful Manipur peasant struggle song by Babloo Loitongbam.
Many of the speakers while clearly expressing solidarity with Irom Sharmila’s fast also questioned the duplicity of the Indian government that accorded special status to Anna Hazare’s 12 day fast compared to its silence on the 12th year of fast by Sharmila.
Altogether, the day, packed with many events and despite of all the hitches, was undoubt a success, with many people, especially young people from the North Eastern states of India including many Manipuris participating in the protest. Of course, the repeal of the AFSPA will undoubtedly be a major victory for the people of the North East and Kashmir but in itself is not a one off solution to the problems facing the people of the North East. The problem hinges on the addressing the crucial national question that the Indian ruling class is totally incapable of solving, driven as it is by the greed of making more and more profits and whose only method of goverance continues by means of “divide and rule”.