How Indian political system failed the non violent struggle of Irom Sharmila

16 year struggle of Irom Sharmila could not move India's political actors

How Indian political system failed the non violent struggle of Irom Sharmila


Irom Sharmila,  who became the face of the peoples struggle  against the much reviled Armed Forces Special Powers  Act (AFSPA) has said she is calling off her long drawn battle by ending her fast.

After 16 years of  struggle she might have realised that the Indian political class's love for excessive military power in suppressing people's movements can't be changed by an non-violent struggle.

Sharmila  the icon of resistance against military might must have by now realised that unlike colonial power which some historians  say ( though many contest this) were bogged down by the non-violent struggle of Mahatma Gandhi and others, Indian political leadership are not sensitive to protest of any kind.

This might have made her to chart a new path for her agitation. Reports suggest that Sharmila is going to contest poll in the Manipur Assembly elections due next year.


In a sense, she was fighting a system that gave sanctity to the brutalities of the security fores. Now she wishes to take on them by being part of that system. She might be thinking political power alone could bring about changes.

It was the political class which has consistently defeated the struggle of Sharmila by ignoring her and by being insensitive towards her fight.

Sharmila started her legendary fight for  human rights after the Malcom massacre. The Assam Rifles were accused of killing 10 people who were waiting in the bus stop in Malcolm town.  After she started her struggle,  she was arrested several times and released and  again arrested. Sharmila, the prisoner of conscience has tried  all the methods to attract the attention of the political leaders to her struggle. But leaders simply ignored her,  even while they were talking about the virtues of non-violence.

In 2004, after public pressure mounted, centre government appointed a committee to review the provisions of the AFSPA. The government initially declined to make the public the report which was scathing attack on the Act.

The commission called the Act as a symbol of oppression, instrument of high handedness. No amount of proof and international call from rights organisation was enough to move the Indian political class. Barring a few, all the main stream political parties prefer love to rule the country with AFSPA.


Sharmila was forced to continue to her struggle. When Manmohan Singh was the prime minister she even tried to meet him. She came to Delhi apparently to make the mainstream media take note of her struggle.

But barring few sane voices every political leader of consequence conveniently ignored her struggle.  And all these times these leaders and political class were advising those dissents who were resorting to arms to come to the mainstream and wage non-violent struggles if they are fighting for rights of the marginalised people.

But Indian judicial system was not as insensitive as the political class. It was recently the Supreme Court ordered that every death in the disturbed area by the security forces should be inquired.

"It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both... This is the requirement of a democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties,”  the top court said in its order.

The order came on the plea by families of Manipur for a probe by Special Investigation Team into the 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters involving army and police.

But courts order does not seems to have carried any impact on the Indian State. The current protest in Kashmir  and the way in which security forces are dealing with it is a glaring example  for this.


All this reflects  a disturbing feature of Indian democracy. The definition the ruling class gives to  'national security' is being accepted without a murmur by almost all political actors, except some left parties.

Those who consistently criticise the mainstream narrative of  security are branded as anti-national, a trend which become more latent during the Modi regime. AFSPA though reviled by all the people wherever it is in force, is seen as an instrument of nation building for many national parties.

The fact that Sharmila was tired of fighting a long battle should be seen as a reflection of the Indian State's insensitivity towards the  same non-violent method, which we used to gain freedom from colonial rule.

When she moves to' mainstream' to fight the ill of the State how the system will respond remains  to be seen.