'Government ready to talk to Maoists but not to peaceful fighter against AFSPA’

Civil society activists on Sunday observed a daylong fast at Jantar Mantar here, urging the government to initiate talks with activist Irom Sharmila, who has been on a peaceful fast for the past 12 years for repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur.

Ms. Sharmila began her fast on November 5, 2000, a couple of days after Assam Rifles soldiers had mowed down 10 civilians at Malom village in the Imphal valley.

“We want to send out the message that Irom Sharmila is not alone. We feel for her because she is a true democrat and a true Gandhian. She has every right to be heard. Her struggle shows her faith in democracy and non-violence,” said Devika Mittal, from Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC), which is opposed to the neglect and suppression of the Manipuri activist’s peaceful fast.

“It is quite unfortunate that the government is ready to talk to Maoists but not to Sharmila, who responded to the extreme violence perpetrated by misusing the AFSPA with extreme peace,” said Rishikesh from Jamia Millia Islamia. Now the ‘Iron lady of Manipur’ was being force-fed through the nose at the state-run Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences close to her Kongpal Kongkham Leikai residence in Imphal East, he said.

SSSC member Ravi Nitesh said the Army had reduced the AFSPA to a tool for violating human rights. “In a season when people are going on fast and the entire country’s political class engages in talks with them, it’s quite shocking that in these 12 years the government has not acknowledged her peaceful fast,” said Mr. Nitesh, who was among the 12 civil society activists who observed the daylong fast.

Gufran Khan, a student activist, called upon the judiciary to intervene, saying the executive was oblivious to the blatant rights violations in the entire north-east. He highlighted the fact that Ms. Sharmila had last month refused the Kovilan Smaraka Activist India National Award given by the Kerala-based Kovilan Trust, saying she would not accept any honour from any individual or organisation until and unless the AFSPA was scrapped.