Guwahati/Imphal, Aug 23 : North East Students' Organization (NESO), the apex body of students from the seven northeastern states, strongly criticized the Centre for maintaining double standards - while, on one hand, the government is buckling to public pressure and paying to Anna Hazare's fast for the implementation of a strict Lokpal bill, on the other, it is ignoring Manipuri hunger striker Irom Sharmila Chanu.
The students' body has demanded the release of Sharmila, who is currently in judicial custody and is being kept at the security ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal. Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for the last 10 years to have the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) repealed from the region.
"For the last 10 years, Iron Lady Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for the sake of people from the region. But her democratic protest has never cut any ice with the Centre. Our question is why doesn't the Centre accord any importance to her cause?" said Gumjum Haider, general secretary of NESO.
NESO further said the Centre should respond equally to the needs of the people all over the country. "People in a democracy have the right to express their feelings and the government is bound to listen to their needs. We have full support for Anna Hazare's movement against corruption. But we are hurt at the way Centre is maintaining different standards by ignoring Irom Sharmila and paying attention to him," he said.
New Delhi is treating the northeastern people as second class citizens, feels Neso. "Why is this Army act enforced in the northeast when the Centre is refusing to do the same in Maoist-affected areas where violence is much higher?" Haider asked.
NESO further said it would start a democratic agitation to make the Centre hear the voice of Manipur. It also demanded that Afspa, for which Irom Sharmila is protesting, should be repealed.
"Even in the past, we tried to make them hear our voice, but in vain. But their attitude is compelling us to start an agitation. Very soon, our delegates would be visiting the ministers concerned in New Delhi and then we will decide what to do," he said.
"We want the act, which is totally logic-less in any democracy, to be repealed from the region. The act violates our basic human rights. Moreover, like Anna Hazare, Irom Sharmila too should be set free," he said.
On the other hand, Anna's invitation to Sharmila to join the anti-graft stir at the national capital looks improbable at the moment as she is currently under judicial custody. Though the matter is being discussed by hordes of human rights defenders in Imphal, many feel that the invitation is not appropriate as the cause of Anna and Shamaila's agitation is quite different.
On Saturday night, Team Anna contacted prominent human rights defender Babloo Loitongbam on the phone, seeking Sharmila's participation in the anti-corruption campaign in New Delhi. Babloo, who is the executive director of Human Rights Alert (HRA), referred the matter to Just Peace Foundation (JPF), a trust formed for the cause of Sharmila's unrelenting struggle against the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Seeking repeal of the military Act, which gives unbridled powers to the armed forces and even allows them to shoot persons on mere suspicion, Sharmila has been on a fast since November 5, 2000. She is being forced-fed through her nose by the government at the security ward of state-run Jawaharlal Nehru hospital close to her Kongpal Kongkham Leikai residence in Imphal East.
"When I was contacted by Team Anna on the phone, I clearly told them that Sharmila is currently under judicial custody for which there would be no possibility for her join Anna's anti-corruption rally in New Delhi," said Babloo.
Irom Singhajit, the elder brother of Sharmila and managing trustee of JPF, told TOI that a meeting is being convened in Imphal to discuss the issue. "Since Sharmila is under arrest, she cannot join the anti-corruption stir and the possibility of sending our members to join Anna's campaign can't be ruled out," said Singhajit. He added that a decision would be taken very soon.