From Cherthala, Defence Minister A. K. Antony’s home town in Kerala, a team led by writer and social activist Sara Joseph set out on Saturday for Imphal, capital of Manipur, on a unique peace march.
The march, christened Hind Swaraj Journey, has been organized to express solidarity with Irom Sharmila Charu, who has been on indefinite hunger-strike for about ten years demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The authorities have kept her alive by repeatedly taking her into custody on charges of attempted suicide and forcibly feeding her through nasal tubes.
This is the first time that activists from the southwestern state have taken out a march to express solidarity with a movement in the northeast.
The march has been organized by the Hind Swaraj Centenary Committee, which has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the book “Hind Swaraj” in which Mahatma Gandhi outlined his concept of non-violence.
In a statement, the committee said the aim of the march was not merely to convey greetings to Irom Sharmila, who is engaged in a campaign which may go down in history as the longest and most intense non-violent struggle, but also to impress upon the authorities the need to end their apathetic attitude towards non-violent agitations.
It added, “The entire world is today watching this non-violent struggle. But the government is not ready to talk to Irom Sharmila. Nor is it taking steps to withdraw AFSPA. The criminal silence the government maintains towards non-violent agitations even as it proclaims it is ready to talk to terrorists who are killing innocent people with guns and bombs needs to be questioned.”
The team was given a warm sendoff at a meeting in Cherthala town before it boarded a train for Ernakulam from where it left at night for Benglooru on the first lap of the 20-day journey. From there it will proceed to Chennai (May 10), Vijayawada (May 11), Pune (May 13), Bhopal (May 15), New Delhi (May 16), Kolkata (May 18), Guwahati (May 20) and reach Imphal on May 21. On May 23 it will leave Imphal. It is due to return to the state on May 27.
K.P.A.Rahim, Chairman of the Hind Swaraj Centenary Committee, who presided over the meeting, explained the reason why the committee decided to sponsor the march.
Sara Joseph, in her speech, revealed that when she and Civic Chandran, Coordinator of the march, met the Defence Minister in New Delhi recently he had told them the circumstances in Manipur did not permit repeal of AFSPA but the possibility of reducing its rigour was being examined.
She deplored the government’s refusal to talk directly to Irom Sharmila. It had sent some intermediaries to Sharmila but she was not ready to talk to middle men. “The whole problem can be solved if President Pratibha Patil talks to Irom Sharmila,” she added.
Speaking before flagging off the march, I pointed out that although the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was enacted only in 1958 it was really a remnant of the British period during which the colonial regime had held down the tribal populations of the border regions, over which it could never establish full control. I also expressed the hope that A. K. Antony, who had the courage to speak up for democracy in Indira Gandhi’s presence at the Guwahati session of the Congress held during the Emergency, would once again rise to the occasion and work for restoration of the democratic process.
See Tehelka story Irom And The Iron In India’s Soul
See also Kavita Joshi’s blog