Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Indian Empire and Irom Sharmila

How does that sound? How about Indian imperialism..?

I am back in India. Finished with my Masters and back. Thats right. These past few months have been quite whirlwind, and coming back to the blog feels good. Its also nice that I m back in Bangalore (or Bengaluru as the regional language Nazis have renamed it). The only only thing I miss about the US are the relatively empty roads, when I watch life pass me by in the hours of evening traffic. I guess I didnt really want to have only half a story to tell.

Over the past few months I ve been reading voraciously. I spend two hours a day cooped up in bus to office. And I pass the time with a book, some really good ones (Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi), some pedestrian(...). But it gives me two assured hours of reading. And thats nice.

We Indians are, some would say rightfully, very proud of a free media. Ours is a third world country. We may be on the way out - but its a long winding route. It would be presumptuous of me to comment on all the poorer nations of the world. But I think it is accurate to say that amongst these, the relative freedom our media enjoys is admirable. I read a rather obscure book named "Goodbye to Gandhi" by one Bernard Imhasly - that has made me put that opinion to rest.

How many of us have heard of the woman Irom Sharmila? I hadnt and I watch the news fairly regularly. I m no news hound but I guess I am about as aware of the state of affairs in our country as the next educated 24 year old.

Ok then. This is the load. I guess we are all aware that theres some trouble in the North East. Those guys dont really somehow feel connected to the rest of India. Mighty difficult too, seeing that they are connected to the rest of the country by a strip thin enough to be an umbilical cord. And we all know what happens to the umbilical cord. In any case, my (idle) impression was that things have gotten better over the past few years. I had no idea what better was.

There is an act, named very vaguely the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It is an act that was instituted by the British to curb the violent factions of our Freedom Movement. And it is active today in Manipur. It allows the army to curb "violent" factions of Manipur as brutally as the British would have had the authority to. Indian army (allegedly of course - since these charges have not been, due to AFSPA, put to court) gotten away with untold brutalities - rapes, murders. Rape is not an uncommon word in Manipur, Imhasly says. It is often used in conjunction with the word "Army".

Irom Sharmila is a Manipuri woman who has been on a hunger strike since the 2nd November 2000. She started the strike protesting the mass murders perpetrated by the Assam Rifles. They shot people waiting at a bus - stop.

She has been arrested by the Govt. of India. And has been imprisoned. No violence involved. India - whose most hyped export to the world is Satyagraha - has arrested somebody who is practicing it.

We are all familiar with this bit. When Gandhi did his Satyagraha he was arrested all the time. Irom Sharmila has been imprisoned in a Hospital. And she is being fed through a tube that is attached to her nose.

I dont remember hearing that of Gandhi - do you? The British clearly would not dare to do such a thing. While his death would be disastrous -the news of someone force feeding him through a tube would probably have had consequences as well.

We of course dont hear about Irom Sharmila. We have no clue. The 24X7 news channels do not have a story on Sharmila. Neither do any of our "vigilant...whatever it takes" channels. I guess they are too busy covering their self congratulatory award ceremonies. Our media clearly is not as free as I had thought it to be. Any claims to Integrity will also have to be put in the garbage.

Also I wonder. Would India treat some one from Bengal or Andhra Pradesh in this fashion. We hear about bogus hunger strikes all the time. I dont recall any body being arrested when they declare one. Is India really ruling over Manipur? Are we ruling over Kashmir?

I would like to believe otherwise - but I cant for the life of me think of another explanation.

To know more please follow a few links - here.