The following is an open letter addressed to Defence Minister A. K. Antony by writer and activist Sara Joseph who will be leading a march from his home town of Cherthala in Kerala to the Imphal jail where Irom Sharmila is incarcerated:
You must be aware of the fast which Irom Sharmila, a young woman, has been carrying on for about ten years against misuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958, which is in force in the northeastern states. We find that the Defence Ministry is silent on this agitation which has attracted the attention of the entire world. We firmly believe that in a democratic set-up the people have the right to react to and agitate peacefully against army excesses and misuse of the law. We share the fears and anxieties about our country which is on the grip of terrorism, communal violence and Naxalite attacks. At the same time it is inappropriate and unjust that the armed sentinels of the country must spill the blood of innocent people. Irom Sharmila’s fast arose from the shock caused by the shooting down of innocent villagers by soldiers in front of her eyes.
Irom Sharmila is now incarcerated in an Imphal jail for attempted suicide. We are surprised that in the past ten years no responsible person has been prepared even to talk to this young woman who is engaged in a non-violent agitation which has attracted attention nationally and internationally.
In these circumstances we wish to invite your kind attention to this matter. In the name of Irom Sharmila, we ask our rulers ‘to talk to Peace, to talk to Fast, to talk to Hunger-strike, to talk to Non-violence and Non-aggression’. We hope you will help make this possible at the earliest opportunity.
Keeping this demand also before the civil society in India, we are beginning a peace march from your town of Cherthala in Kerala. Representatives of writers and other cultural activists of Kerala and the Hind Swaraj Centenary Committee are joining the march. As the march proceeds, “Meira Paeybi” (Women with Torches), a play based on Irom Sharmila’s life and struggle, presented by the Sunday Theatre of Kozhikode, will be staged in different parts of India. We will reach Imphal along with Mahasweta Devi after travelling through Bengalooru, Chennai, Nellore, Vijayawada, Bhopal, Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. T.R.N. Prabhu and Civic Chandran are the Co-ordinators of the march.
We are making this appeal to draw your urgent attention to the Imphal jail. Irom Sharmila is not a criminal who should be in prison. Hunger-strike is not unconstitutional. Earnestly pleading that steps be taken immediately to settle this agitation,
With respectful regards,
(Free English rendering of the original in Malayalam appearing on the March 2010 issue of Patabhedam magazine)