Irom Sharmila has been on a fast since November 2000 after Assam Rifles personnel killed ten civilians at Malam near Imphal airport. Her non-violent resistance has become a nucleus against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. On October 16, a ‘Save Sharmila campaign” started a nationwide tour. Flagged off by Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey, the 4500 KM long march was led by 21 members of the National Alliance for People’s Movement and backed by a number of civil society groups across the country. It has reached its final destination, Imphal. A spokesman of the campaign said, “We were successful in spreading the universal message of love and peace…Only by repeating the Act, Irom Sharmila can get justice.” On December 10 International Human Rights Day, volunteers of the solidarity campaign will fast at New Delhi’s Rajghat. President Pratibha Patil will be urged to stop alleged army atrocities under the AFSPA.Support will come from eminent humanists like Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy and others.
The conclusion of the long march to save Sharmila coincides with the controversy over the withdrawal of AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre has more or less vetted the idea though the decisions rests with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. This does not apply to the Northeast as official thinking supports its retention in those states. But there is growing public opinion against it as Sharmila’s crusade demonstrates. Finally, it is good that the campaign for her indicates that the murmur of criticism against her personal life has died down.