Abhay Deol is known to be a thinking man’s actor. So it’s hardly surprising to see him talk his mind on the burning issue of Irom Chanu Sharmila’s hunger strike. The ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ has been on a hunger strike for over 10 years now, demanding that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from Manipur.
And Abhay is surprised by the government and media’s indifference to Irom’s stance. "Are we waiting for another martyr like Swami Nigamananda?" says the 35-year-old actor, hinting at the man who died after a 114-day hunger strike in Haridwar, demanding immediate stopping of quarrying in the river Ganga.
"I don’t know if Swami Nigamananda was poisoned or not, but ultimately, he gave his life for a cause. It’s high time we take a look at Irom’s cause before things go out of hand," says an amazed Abhay, adding that while whatever Baba Ramdev or Anna Hazare do promptly makes headlines, Irom Sharmila has been sidelined.
"Think about it, Anna Hazare goes on a strike and gets desired results, Baba Ramdev tries to make a point and everyone hears him. So, why is no one, including the government, looking into or paying heed to Irom Sharmila’s demands?" says the actor, glad to be speaking about the cause.
According to Abhay, AFSPA has been "used and misused" repeatedly in Manipur. "Even the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called it a draconian law. So, why can’t it be looked into? Do we want a renewed round of insurgency in the state? If not, steps must be taken now to keep things under control," he warns.
In fact, Abhay feels that the media too, tends to go overboard with certain news-making topics. "I think you guys (media) should pump up her cause too, instead of focusing only on one subject," says Abhay, claiming that recently, a portion of his interview about Irom’s case was edited out of a TV interview "because the government wouldn’t have liked it. I think we have to really get rid of the fear psychosis."
Ask Abhay if he ever tried to meet Irom and he says: "It’s very difficult to meet her because of the complexities of her case. But if, as an actor, I can make people aware about her cause, I’ll be most happy. Many feel that an actor can only take his shirt off, which is very unfortunate. I have been trying to speak about this issue as much as I can."
Who’s Irom Sharmila?
Irom Chanu Sharmila, an activist, journalist and poet from Manipur, has been on hunger strike since November 2000 to demand that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which she blames for violence in Manipur and other parts of India’s northeast. Ever since her arrest, she has been regularly released and re-arrested under IPC section 309, a punishable act meant for a person who “attempts to commit suicide”.