We’re all connected now. Thanks to online news sources, we can hear about news we might never have heard of in the past. That’s how I, a middle-aged American, came to hear about Irom Sharmila’s steadfast protest against an unjust law.
I had not heard about AFSPA—the law that lets the Indian Army act with virtual impunity in areas such as Manipur that are labeled “disturbed”—until reading Sharmila’s story. What I learned saddened and horrified me, but regretfully, it was all too familiar to me. In America this past year, we have been struggling with a similar issue of impunity – the impunity of police officers, who, it seems, are able to kill Black people in almost any circumstance and get away with it.
When we’re faced with government-approved injustice, it’s very hard to know what to do, but Sharmila found a path – her hunger strike. Her refusal to take food or water is a dramatic challenge to the government – Will you let an innocent woman die (as too many men, women, and children already have) or will you remove this law?
It’s easy to get caught up in Sharmila’s personal story – I certainly did. But what she herself wants is for people to care about her cause. To borrow a story from Buddhism, she’s like a finger pointing at the moon. You’re not supposed to concentrate on the finger, but on the moon. Similarly, if you are moved by Sharmila, and care about her, then you should think about her cause.
There are all kinds of ways to work for an end to AFSPA. As an American, I don’t have a right to comment on Indian politics, but as a fellow human being, my conscience urges me speak out on behalf of my brothers and sisters everywhere — so I call attention to Sharmila’s plight in my own social media spaces and write to both Indian and American diplomats. But Indian citizens can do something even more valuable – they can come to support her at her trials, especially when she makes her statement in Delhi in August.
How wonderful it would be for her to see a groundswell of support — and how motivating it would be for both Indian politicians and the army to start working in earnest for an alternative to AFSPA.
Francesca Forrest is a freelance editor, copy-editor, and writer working for organizations and academics. Her clients hail mainly from the United States, but also from Canada, Singapore, and Hong Kong. She has lived in England and Japan and now resides in western Massachusetts. She takes an active interest in social-justice causes.