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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Hazare’s campaign a lesson for Sharmila supporters

Imphal: Supporters of Manipur’s ‘Iron Lady’ Irom Sharmila, who has been on hunger strike for the last 11 years demanding withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state, are inspired by how Anna Hazare steered his anti-corruption campaign to success by fasting for only 12 days.

“It has been an inspiration for us. We have realised that if our movement is more organised and we manage to garner a pan-India support, the government would be bound to listen to us,”  said Sharmila’s long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam.

However, Loitongbam admitted that theirs is a much more difficult fight than Hazare’s.

Sharmila’s elder brother Irom Singhajit, who has now turned into a human rights activist, also admitted that their struggle against the ‘draconian’ AFSPA has got new motivation from Hazare’s crusade against corruption.

“His movement shows that Parliament also listens to the voice of people. So this is the right time to strengthen ourselves and make our voices heard,” he said.

Irom Sharmila supporters are hoping the media and the government will pay more attention to their cause, thanks to Anna's campaign.

 Reuters Singhajit said they have realised is that there must be a political platform to voice concern about the AFSPA. However, he clarified, “That doesn’t mean we will support any particular political party.”

Babloo, who leads Manipur’s Human Rights Alert and the Just Peace Foundation, said they are looking to broaden their support base.

“We need to solicit support from all progressive forces and civil society groups all over the country. And then, we need to form a lobby within the government. Using all of them we have to communicate that removing the AFSPA will help the growth of India’s democracy,” the activist said.

Now, the biggest challenge before them is to run an aggressive and unrelenting anti-AFSPA campaign in the national capital just the way Hazare did, Babloo said.

“We are sitting here in Manipur, which is far from Delhi. That is why we are ignored. For us, having a sustained campaigning in Delhi is difficult but very important. We are trying to do that through our supporters there in Delhi,” he said.

While fasting in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan for 12 days, Hazare had made the entire nation come to a standstill following which Parliament decided to consider a strong Lokpal bill.

Sharmila, on the other hand, is fighting a lone battle in an isolated ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal city. She has been forcibly nose-fed for the last 11 years.

In Delhi, Sharmila’s supporters from various civil societies like the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Asha Parivar, Chetna Kendra, etc. have joined hands and are campaigning with renewed vigour.

Her supporters are happy that after Hazare’s movement, suddenly the media, intellectuals and even the government has started discussing the issue afresh.

Even former Union home secretary G K Pillai had recently remarked that Sharmila’s efforts were not appreciated by the rest of India till Hazare sat on a fast.


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