The Iron lady Irom Sharmila’s meltdown drowns Muslims (Pangals)

The Iron lady Irom Sharmila’s meltdown drowns Muslims (Pangals)

The Iron lady Irom Sharmila’s meltdown drowns Muslims (Pangals)

Written By: / Articles / Saturday, 30 July 2016 18:05

Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan
With the news of her contesting upcoming assembly elections after calling off about 16-year old fast protesting AFSPA1958, the movement that earned Irom Sharmila of Manipur the moniker ‘Iron Lady’, the blogosphere and the social media is flooded with knee-jerk reactions and suddenly the human rights activist is reduced to just another case of ‘fame by mistake’. What was the point in fasting at first place if electoral politics could repeal AFSPA? Is not joining politics a sign of failure of her movement and success of the present govt headed by O. Ibobi? Ms Sharmila’s decision to end fast for contesting polls and getting married prompted Dina Oinam, a social media user, writing in Manipuri, to condemn the decision by criticising the whole episode as ‘16-year long movie which we thought was patriotic, but ended up as a romantic comedy’. Amidst the outcry, mostly from Manipuris and concerned Indian youths, the political parties firmly welcome her decision to join the mainstream of democracy: electoral politics.
Communal statement
While sifting through newspaper reports and unverified ‘personal facts’ being put out in the social media, I came across one report in the Huiyen Lanpao Manipuri edition of July 27. The report could be considered a grim reminder of Ronald Reagan’s sarcastic bite on politics, “It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first”. The oldest profession thrives on discrimination, chauvinism and misogynist passion. Similarly, the moment one talks about politics, communal tone/passion come out flying to sow the seeds of discrimination and chauvinism. In the said report, Irom Sharmila says that her support base is dwindling and tribes and Muslims (Pangals) did not come out to support her. Manipur is in the grip of a tension caused by hill-valley divide that was palpable in the opposition to the ILPS movement by hill-based groups. Her insensitive comment could further deepen the divide and invite criticism of her image of a rights activist. One can’t help but say ‘this is no way to start electoral politics by an activist’. Her comment is actually in tune with the latest trend in electioneering, i.e., social engineering. Let me elaborate it. Politics is in recent times increasingly done on identity, community and ultra-nationalist issues and passion. The most successful format is that majority and powerful community paint an ethnocentric and chauvinist picture that demean syncretism and marginalises minorities by questioning their loyalty and commitment in issues of state interest. To this end, different propaganda materials are distributed to unleash a wild run of passion in a section of society. Adopting such a format for anyone seeking a wild entry is not bad. So, what a better opening shot would be for a political career than speaking up for identity of a community while denigrating the minorities or relegating their position in the society. The report in question indicates (or her advisors’) communal assessment of her movement against AFSPA. However, AFSPA has never treated hills and valley, or Meiteis and Pangals differently. Many extra-judicial killings have been reported from every community and from every corner of Manipur. It is imprudent to stratify her supporters into core and peripheral; Meitei and Pangal/tribe. Every supporter has the same aversion to AFSPA and their collective demand has remained ‘Repeal AFSPA, Save Sarmila’
I, for one, find her statement unbecoming of a Iron-willed woman who has shaken the mass and class, including the conscience keeper of India’s constitution Supreme Court that ruled recently against excessive use of security force and the impunity with which security forces operate in areas under AFSPA1958.
Setting the record straight
Nobody is happy with AFSPA because it grants security forces the right to kill. Her statement is no less than a taunt on Pangals as it infers that Pangals are ready to be killed by Indian military by not supporting her movement to repeal the draconian law. Who wants to be killed, anyway? Before the dust settles on her whacky comment, it is worth taking a look, to set the record straight, at her movement and participation of Pangals. Miraj Shah, president of Manipur Students Association, Delhi (MSAD) feels seriously let down by the comment made by her whom he considers as role model and had sat down on her side to protest several times in the past, in addition to organising a number of protest marches in Delhi supporting her fight for human rights
Here it is noteworthy that Ms Sharmila had been arrested a couple of times while protesting against AFSPA in Jantar Mantar and tried by Delhi metropolitan court on charges of committing suicide. In all her appearances in Delhi, apart from activists from Manipur accompanying her, MSAD has been instrumental. Apart from MSAD, various other rights activists also participated. One regular face in those protests was of Faisal Khan who revived Khudai Khidmatgar, a non-violent movement founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan popularly known as Frontier Gandhi, and an activist with National Alliance of People’s Movement. In support of Ms Sharmila, Mr Khan had visited Manipur in 2014 and spent time taking part in her protest .
In addition to this, Mr Khan had participated in a march of activists from Jammu and Kashmir, another state where AFSPA 1958 is imposed, to Manipur in 2011. The march was coordinated and received in Manipur by Manipuri Pangals representing Popular Front of India (PFI), Manipur chapter. It is apparent that Ms Sharmila’s utterance has stunned members of PFI, which has been extending unflinching support and solidarity to her record-breaking fast.
Ignore and condemn
Technically and honestly, I would say that those who participated or supported Ms Sharmila’s movement were all human rights activists themselves. Her statement, derecognising the involvement of particular section of society, only challenges her notion of human rights activism. And, this is why her statement should be ignored and condemned collectively because fight for rights cannot be seen through communal angle. Every citizen needs human rights and they fight for it democratically. It is impossible to imagine that there is a protest and Manipuris stay away from it. Oh wait, in her view, are tribes and Pangals less Manipuri than Meiteis? Or, was she being advised by vested interests? In that case, has her courage fallen into wrong hands? One needs to question the timing and hidden agenda of the comment. Even before her comment, passion already runs high in the hills and valley, what with Modi govt’s Naga Peace Framework and ILPS demand hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles. In the hills, things may scale up and create further divide in the Manipuri society. On the other hand, Pangals have been always at receiving end, whether it is intermittent mob violence, branding as ‘vehicle thieves’, ‘drug peddlers’, or ‘bunch of anti-social elements’. Former DGP of Manipur, Y. Joykumar added insult to the injury during discussion hour telecast by ISTV (July 3, 2016) by saying that in the past, even during his tenure, police were apprehensive of entering in Lilong, a Pangal majority sub-division. This remark from a responsible person angered Lilongers. Many intellectuals questioned his efficiency as DGP if police failed to bring the ‘so-called’ imagined anti-social elements to book.  Furthermore, in the same discussion, social scientist Dhanabir Laishram, regular face in discussion hour, pointed out a change in the cultural practices among Pangals, perhaps, due to Islamic influence splitting up the blood relation Meiteis and Pangals share. His observation was seen as a general rejection by majority community of assertion of identity by minority community. In this context, Ms Sharmila’s statement is no less than questioning the loyalty and commitment of Pangals in issues of state interest.
Still supporting
Ms Sharmila for long has been a poster girl of protest against AFSPA in all over India, not only in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir. Because of mass support, her resolve to protect human rights was transformed into a movement that has persisted for so long. We shouldn’t consider her as just another protesting woman. She is a cult figure now and her protest has become iconic. This write up is neither an exercise of questioning her struggle or courage, nor an attempt to flare up communal undercurrent, but an analysis of a public figure’s public decision keeping in view the prevailing tensions in Manipuri society. It is in this context that the criticism of her decision and statement denying the support of tribes and Pangals needs to be seen. We all know the complicity of the govt in extra-judicial killings and extension of AFSPA rule in the state (one such report “Confessions of a killer policeman” was recently filed in The Guardian by Raghu Karnad and Grace Jajo based on revelations of Thounaojam Herojit, who killed Chongkham Sanjit, a reformed ex-cadre of PLA). People in Manipur have lost faith in the elected govt in the matters of repeal of AFSPA. In this situation, it is only natural that there will be a chorus of disapproval in response to Ms Sharmila’s decision. However, this doesn’t mean that Manipuris will stop supporting her future protests against AFSPA. We are still supporting her.
(Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan teaches at Gauhati University. The views expressed in this write up are personal.)

About the Author

William Gurumayum

William Gurumayum

Maheshwar Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since 2013. An avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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