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Not on the Atkins diet

But if you’re really serious about fasting, there can be no better motivator than the Government of India. Our good old national institution has worked wonders by pushing someone to forego a proper meal since Nov 2000, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2009 22:37 IST
Indrajit Hazra

You feeling a bit peckish? I certainly feel a bit hungry these days. But going on a crash diet or, even better, a full-fledged fast is still the best way to lose that extra flab.

Which brings us to the matter of motivation. How does one ensure that there is enough will-power to stay off food? Well, for AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa, condemning the central and Tamil Nadu governments for remaining “mute spectactors” to the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils is one way of burning calories. It’s another matter that we didn’t see her shedding much as she went on a hunger-strike on Monday to protest against the UPA government’s “failure to ensure a ceasefire” in northern Sri Lanka. One reason for that may have been the fact that the fast ended the next day. Karva chauth-type fasts usually don’t do any good for anyone’s agitation let alone figure.

But if you’re really serious about fasting, there can be no better motivator than the Government of India. Our good old national institution has worked wonders by pushing someone to forego a proper meal since November 2000.

Irom Sharmila Chanu is the kind of person who usually makes me deeply suspicious of human goodness. I mean, what kind of person would go on a hunger-strike for eight years, demanding the repeal of something as abstract-sounding as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)?

Irom Sharmila’s story is as much about one Manipuri woman’s battle against the worst possible adversary — irrelevance — as it is about practising the lost and powerful art of satyagraha, non-violent protest, against the very people who make a huge reverential show of this invention by another Indian political activist. Irom wants the AFSPA to be repealed from her home state, Manipur.

So what is this thing that goes by the acronym-resisting name of AFSPA? It’s a law that was enacted in August 1958 that grants the military extraordinary powers to arrest without a warrant, give out shoot-to-kill orders and destroy property in ‘disturbed areas’. Most magically, it protects military personnel from prosecution against any crimes. Passed as a short-term measure to take on separatists, it became a protective cloak for extra-judicial killings, torture, rape and ‘disappearances’.

On November 2, 2000, ten people standing at a bus stand were shot dead at Malom, Manipur, by members of the Assam Rifles in retaliation to a bombing by insurgents. Irom Sharmila saw the pictures of the dead in the next day’s newspapers and lost her appetite. Since then, she has been trying to get the AFSPA scrapped in Manipur by the only way she thinks will get the attention of the powers-that-be in Never-Neverland Delhi: by going on a fast.

Well, she’s been dead wrong, hasn’t she?

Arrested and released and re-arrested over the last eight years on charges of attempted suicide, Irom has managed practically nothing, even as she has been force-fed a liquid diet through her nose all these years.

In 2004, after the custodial killing of Manorama Devi (remember those naked Manipuri women with the banner carrying those ‘inviting’ words, ‘Indian Army Rape Us’, outside the Assam Rifles headquarters in Imphal?), the tremendously decent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee to look into the act. The committee presented its report to the PM a year later in which it stated that the AFSPA “should be repealed... The Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.”

Apart from lifting the Act from municipal areas in Manipur, the AFSPA firmly remains in place in the state (even as Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stated last month in the state assembly that he would repeal the AFSPA in J&K “if the situation continued to improve”).

Irom Sharmila was released last Saturday, the day before International Women’s Day. She was re-arrested for attempted suicide on Monday, the day Jayalalithaa didn’t eat a morsel. Yesterday, Irom Sharmila turned 37 in prison.

Hope you’re having a wholesome breakfast today, Mr Prime Minister.