India: One woman’s struggle against oppression

Extraordinary stand against the brutal state and draconian powers

The struggle for the emancipation of women from sexism and for social-political and economic equality continues in various valiant fights all over India. But on the occasion of International Women’s Day, 2011, the extraordinary struggle of one woman against the brutal Indian state and its draconian powers needs to be brought out. She has taken on the might of the Indian Army single-handed with her determined fight.

Irom Sharmila, a young Manipuri woman, has been on indefinite fast since November 2000. She is fasting to protest about the killing of innocent people by security forces who are meant to protect them. She is opposing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law promulgated to curb insurgency in the state. Under this law, security personnel can shoot and arrest anybody, and raid premises, upon mere suspicion of insurgency. They often target ordinary people, using these special powers. Newspapers report innumerable incidents of such “false encounters”. Human rights organisations have documented hundreds of cases of the killing, arrest, rape or torture of innocent people.

Throughout Manipur people live in a state of fear. On the one hand, they fear insurgents; on the other hand, the security forces. A cycle of violence has been set up by these two groups. Caught in the crossfire, ordinary people in this beautiful state have lost all semblance of normal life. Rather than being an effective counter-insurgency measure, AFSPA is in fact encouraging the growth of insurgency.

In November 2000, ten innocent people were mowed down by security forces in Malom, a village near Imphal. Irom Sharmila, who hails from a very ordinary family in Imphal, could not accept the situation. In response to this tragedy, she went on hunger strike and demanded the withdrawal of the AFSPA from Manipur. She refused to eat until and unless this draconian legislation was removed. Later in the same month the government arrested her, and began force-feeding her through a nasal tube. She has been released, and re-arrested, innumerable times since then. For over eight years now, she has stood by her demand, refusing to eat. She has spent most of these years alone in jail, in Imphal.

While inspired by the tremendous courage and determination of Irom Shamila, we of Socialist Alternative strive to build organisations and movements based on the powerful Indian working class. These, following in the footsteps of the mass movements of the Middle East today, will be able to sweep away not only the AFSPA and military oppression, but the whole rotten and corrupt regime of capitalism and land-lordism in India. Women will play a vital part in this movement; without them, it will not be able to succeed.

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March 2011