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25 May, 2010

Hind Swaraj marchers denied permission to meet Irom Sharmila

The following is a press release issued jointly by Human Rights Alert, Manipur, and the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on the Hind Swaraj march from Kerala to Manipur in solidarity with Irom Sharmila:

Drawing inspiration from the non-violent protest of Ms. Irom Sharmila of Manipur, a group of activists, artists, journalists, writers, academics, research scholars and students organised a national campaign, the Hind Swaraj Peace March, in India.

The march is organised in support and solidarity of Sharmila's ten-year long fast, calling upon the state and non-state actors to end the culture of impunity and violence. The march also demands the withdrawal of the draconian law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

The march started on 8 May from Cherthala, Kerala state and will terminate in Imphal, Manipur state on 27 May. Cherthala is the constituency of Mr. A. K. Anthony, the Defence Minister of India. En route the march staged plays and held public meetings in Bangalore, Chennai, Vijayawada, Pune, Bhopal, Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and Itanagar. Award winning writer and novelist Prof. Sara Joseph and social activist Mr. Civic Chandran, both from Kerala are leading the march. The march also marks the centenary of Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), a movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi in his effort to create a non-violent world.

The play performed in the Hind Swaraj Peace March named Meira Paibi (torchbearer women) highlights the women's movement for peace in Manipur. In Manipur however the play had to be cancelled since the 17 member team could not enter the state owing to the road blockade organised by the Naga political groups. Only five members were able to afford to reach Imphal by air.

An application filed by the Hind Swaraj Centenary Committee, including Prof. Sara Joseph and Civic Chandran, requesting permission to meet Sharmila at the hospital room where she is detained by the state government, was not even accepted to records by the Chief Minister in complete contrast to what Sharmila represents. The team however went to the hospital and talked to Sharmila without entering her room.

On 23 May, the Centenary Committee held a press conference in Imphal addressing the media about their journey and movement to strengthen Sharmila's non-violent protest. In addition the Committee has spoken to thousands of people across the country about Sharmila and the issues in Manipur during the three week long journey from Kerala, including a press conference at Guwahati.

Speaking to a group of journalists, activists, students and academics in Guwahati, Prof. Sara said: "the choice before the post independence India in this critical historical juncture is between Maoist leader Mr. Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishanji and the iconic peace activist Irom Sharmila. If we refuse to engage with Sharmila we will be forced to confront Kishanji."

"Kishanji's way is the path of violence which the world has rejected many a times. However Sharmila's is the path of non-violent people's struggle that has been successful in the past. Which path should India and the civil society choose?" Prof. Sara added.

Adding to the discussion Chandran said: "Kishanji and Chidambaram are birds of the same feather. However they represent different classes. One seeks to uphold and the other seeks to gain power through violence; both are in an unholy alliance."

"Maoists have become a pressure valve for the system. The only choice before the oppressed classes is to embrace Sharmila's way of peaceful and democratic struggle…" Chandran added.

Prof. Sara said: "this peace march is to address the state and the civil society and tell both that they must engage in non-violence. The solution to the threat faced by democracy is to have more democracy."

Commenting on the issues in India's northeastern states Chandran said "India's northeastern states provide clear evidence of the internal colonisation with its manifest social, cultural and political dimensions."

"The only way to make the people living in the northeast to realise that they are part of India is by recognising and respecting their identities, autonomy, freedoms and democratic rights." Chandran added.

Meira Paibi, a play the march performed in Malayalam and Hindi talks about India's northeast to the rest of the country.

Concerning the fragility of peace in the region Chandran said: "any small disturbance is sufficient to upset life in the northeast. Manipur has been cut off from the rest of the world over the issue of a former guerrilla leader's desire to visit his home village."

Speaking to the media in Imphal, Mr. Babloo Loitongbam, the Director of Human Rights Alert said: "Though the situation has deteriorated to the extent that essential medicine and food items are scarce, the centre and the state governments have been unresponsive to the situation."

"We demand that they talk to each other immediately to resolve the long jam. Let the people get back to their normal life" added Babloo.

Speaking about the collective responsibility of India and its people to respect Sharmila's unique protest Chandran said: "as the noted human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Ms. Shirin Ebadi said, if anything happens to Irom Sharmila, the Indian state, the Indian Parliament, the Prime Minister and the media that closed its eyes to this decade long struggle should be held responsible."

"We too, cannot shirk our responsibility. Amidst the deafening noise of violence speaking to violence across the length and breadth of our country, here is a call to respond to non-violence, with humility, with truth" Chandran added.

Emphasising the importance of non-violence and its role in a democratic state Chandran said: "Long live the dream of a non-violent alternative enunciated in the Hind Swaraj and the possibility of the non-violent people's struggle epitomised by Irom Sharmila."

"Let us work together for a self reliant and decentralised federal India. As Mahasweta Devi predicted, let us hope the twenty first century will be known and marked by Irom Sharmila" said Chandran.

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