Sinlung /
20 April 2011

Spot The Difference: Hazare vs Irom Sharmila

By Rituparna Chatterjee

New Delhi, Apr 20 : Irom Sharmila Chanu and Anna Hazare have one thing in common – the ability to fast indefinitely for what they perceive is right. But the similarities end there.

She has been on a political fast for 11 years but her silent resilience moves you when you realize the sheer magnitude of what she is single-handedly trying to achieve.

Far from the glare of studio lights of television channels and tangled wires of a hundred microphones, in the hilly haven of Manipur, Irom Sharmila Chanu has launched a movement that has found resonance with her people. The Manipuris have christened her Menghaobi or 'The Fair One.'

Spot the difference: Hazare vs Irom Sharmila

In and out of jails for the past 11 years, Manipur's 'Iron Lady' Sharmila has a tube running down her nose as the government alternately force feeds her and incarcerates her for attempting to take her own life through her hunger strike.

Manipur is far removed, in more ways than one, from the political nerve centre of the national capital. But Irom is not a stranger to Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi, where she herself has launched a series of protests in the past to seek the repeal of a law that gives the state army draconian powers.

Though a recipient of many awards and international commiseration over her iron resolve to fast unto death unless the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958) is repealed, Sharmila's movement has somehow failed to capture the imagination of India's burgeoning urban middle-class who can better identify with issues that affect their lives directly.

Veteran activist Anna Hazare launched a similar fast unto death on April 5, 2011 at the Jantar Mantar for tougher anti-graft legislation which had drawn the support of thousands.

Hazare's demands for a bill that gives an independent ombudsman police-like powers to prosecute ministers, bureaucrats and judges had tapped into widespread public anger over a spate of graft scandals that tarnished the country's image.

The image of Hazare's apparent frailty as he camped on a thin mattress in the afternoon sun in a street-side platform at the protest ground was captured by Indian photojournalists and replicated the world over as a septuagenarian’s lonely struggle to rid bureaucracy of corruption.

The image tugged at the heart strings of thousands of Indians fed up with the scourge and exploded into a social network-driven mass movement hijacked by political opponents and celebrities.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under tremendous opposition pressure, agreed to discuss the Jan Lokpal bill when parliament next convenes in July. He also gave in to Hazare's demand for activists to join officials in drafting the bill.

Why has Hazare's movement been a success?

So why has Hazare's populist movement succeeded in eliciting a speedy response from a sluggish government machinery when Sharmila's didn't over 11 years?

It has much to do with the fact that corruption as a broad subject is easier understood by the Indian middle class than an obscure martial law that is perceived to have no bearing on the lives of the majority of people.

Hazare's 'people's protest' also came at a time when India’s wired urban middle and upper middle classes are undergoing a radical transition. With more households connected to internet in 2011 than ever before, Indians are embracing social networking to exchange, disseminate and process information - a powerful tool that came after Sharmila’s time.

The media has had a field day while covering Hazare's protests, endorsed by celebrities - from glamorous film stars, sports personalities and socialites to relationship experts and politicians - faces that cemented the tottering campaign into a David vs Goliath battle against graft.

The national media has been largely silent about Sharmila's crusade against AFSPA in one of India’s most resource-rich but remotest corners whose people often complain of apathy and neglect from the central government.

Why has the Centre ignored Sharmila?

The government's quick acquiescence to Hazare's demands while ignoring Sharmila's, bears testimony to the geo-political importance (or lack of it) of the North East in a country where caste divides can shift the balance of power.

A populist movement ahead of crucial Parliamentary election is harder for the government to ignore.

AFSPA has been imposed in Manipur and most of the Northeast since 1980. It allows the army to use force, shoot or arrest anyone without warrant on the mere suspicion that someone has committed or was about to commit a cognisable offence. The Act also prohibits any legal or judicial proceeding against army personnel without the previous sanction of the Central Government.

Sharmila, who has been unable to convert her localized crusade into a national movement, says the martial law did not help curb insurgent groups as was intended to, but has sparked a seething resentment among the people of the North East.

An irregular access to national media, apathy from a justice system overburdened with pending political cases, political incarceration and a thorny subject – may have worked to relegate Sharmila crusade since November, 2000 to the backburner.

But to say she achieved nothing would be injustice to Sharmila’s tremendous personal sacrifice.

Under intense pressure, the government in 2004 constituted a five-member committee under the Chairmanship of Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, a former Supreme Court judge. The committee was to review the provisions of AFSPA and advise the Government on whether to amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of human rights; or to replace it with a more humane Act.

Although the government hasn't taken any concrete action on the findings of the Reddy committee that suggested, among other things, the repeal of the Act, it helped bring a burning issue to the forefront.


VINOD said...

i am ashamed as a citizen of India for the actions of the so called democratic government , i will try to give as much as coverage as possible to this great lady of India. i wish she will win her war

Baby P K said...

We need to express our solidarity to Irom Sharmila, who is fighting against AFSPA. We gave enough attention to d strike of Hazare, but we kept crime-like silence in case of the brutal Act AFSPA. 22nd may 1958- was the day when AFSPA was passed in the parliament. Lets join hands together on this May 22nd and raise our voices against this black law. lets do some action at each place. Tell me what we do?

aishwarya said...

its a shame on d government for turning a blind eye to irom sharmilla.many of us dont even no who she is..lets recommend this page to all our friends and spread iroms cause

Ulen said...

Iron lady Sharmila from Manipur is less highlighted or known as compare to Hajra or Ramdev and her demand to remove AFSPA did not consider much. The question is: Is it because she is born in a corner of India called Manipur state? Please ask yourself..

Anonymous said...

but the main issue is she belongs to North East, the most neglated part of India.

megh-na said...

This is absolutely pathetic.. y ignoring dis lady's fast solely on d basis dat she belongs to manipur...m truly ashamed on being in india n doubt dat r v really democratic


Shadab Naqvi said...

My best wishes with Sharmila .. but ashamed to see that 300 people like this post only. Media should pay more attention to this as they did in Anna Hazare case.

vijay said...

because of these political leaders who are selfish and apathetic until it affects their votebank the country pays the price.

its time for a radical change in electoral reforms so that we have true leaders who solve the problems objectively and take the country forward with all the groups united

Roshan said...

'At the stroke of midnight when the whole world sleeps, India wil awaken to Freedom..' words by Panditji when he hoisted national flag on the eve of Independence.

..these words used to give me goose bums but now makes me think did we actally gain Independence. Gandhiji made the whole country stand united to struggle for independence but as soon as it was on the verge of reality we started dividin ourselves and soon as we got it, we killed the man who made it possible. Hailing from a Malayali(Kerala) family I spent most of my childhood in Arunachal Pradesh, one among the Seven Sisters beautiful place with beautiful people. Its funny how we always categorize each other dependin on our state, culture etc. If u are from south india, in the north u are called 'Madrasi' no matter if u are from Kerala, Tamil, Karnataka or Andhra. If u are from north in south india u are called 'northie' or 'hindiwala'
and of course anyone from northeast is misatken for a chineese or tibetian. this is well shown even in the movie 'Chak de'.
In these times where we are all so busy with our own lives, sense of patriotism with deep sense of humanity is what we need to be better human beings.
Today causes taken up by Anna Hazare and Irom Sharmila are calling out to us to stand united for a good cause. My heart goes out to Ms Sharmila esp for the long struggle and pain that she is endeavouring and pray her long wait brings fruitful results.

ranjit singh purohit said...

i am ashamed of myself for my helpless to support u sharmila....u may not be living a helathy life like us but u r definitely living a meaningful life than us...!i am ashamed of myself for my helpless to support u sharmila....u may not be living a helathy life like us but u r definitely living a meaningful life than us...!

kaushik said...

really pathetic that this was unnoticed for such long, even imagine being force fed for 11 years , what is really required to bring the government to hear you and just notice the cause really baffles me, forget about getting justice , just to come into picture after 11 years and the cause remains as it is means our system definitely lacks something.imagine only the regions with denser population gets heard and attended to, the regions with maximum no. of mp's get preference only, just having more votes doesnt mean the person is correct or the cause is not authentic. any amount of sympathy or support is not enough for this, fast for a day completely then may be u will understand what it means to fast for 11 years.

sana said...

In this country we have to shout to make ourselves heard. It's time we give much more media coverage and support to this right cause.

If we have to make the government come out of their intentional apathy,we have to go and shout to their ears.

Vote-bank politics have always guided the priority of our government. Weather the representatives of our state support them or not,their government is going to stand.They prioritize the areas and issues which will fetch them more vote. Problems and issues concerning small states like Manipur have always been marginalized.

sitting in the Ac rooms of parliament and discussing our problems and giving out opinions and even solutions is irrelevant.

Unknown said...

PC Chidambaram has recently expressed his concern over the armys' pressure against 'modification of AFSPA at any cost' as per recommendations by Justice Jiban Reddy commission.It is one of the most disappoining juncture that centre govt. is acting under arm forces in contraven to the earlier 'stand' by the Prime Minister himself to the people of this state at Kangla-the most important and holy place of manipuris.The govt. still empowers central forces to kill North easteners at a 'liberal ground' of 'suspect' and at the same time have no 'shame' at all while claiming 'champion of demecracy' in the global plateforms!!

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