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READING LIST

MARCH 2016 ISSUE


Iron Lady

Journalist Anubha Bhonsle effectively portrays the problem faced by Manipur and Irom Sharmila’s silent fight
 
Dilip Kumar Mekala

MOTHER, WHERE’S MY COUNTRY? LOOKING FOR LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS OF MANIPUR Irom Sharmila is an important chapter in the painful story of Manipur and the fight against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Shortly after her efforts - in the form of indefinite hunger strikes - were effectively neutralised by the nation state with a unique force-feeding mechanism, her story faded into oblivion in the mainstream media. She seems to be stuck in an endless loop: hunger-strike followed by court order to force-feed, being admitted to a hospital, and the hunger strike again after discharge from the hospital. Sharmila is in her 16th year of hunger strike, and the only ‘out’ for her from this agony is the repeal of AFSPA - a humanitarian fight which seems impossible to reach its conclusion under the present circumstances.

‘Pity has played no part (while writing Sharmila’s story),’ says author Anubha Bhonsle in the introduction of her book: Mother, Where’s My Country? Bhonsle was right; in her book, she critiques the mistakes Sharmila has made over the years, the vested interests of the activists who want Sharmila to continue with the hunger-strike, while passionately narrating the story of the fight - not just with the State, but also her personal struggle to not be in a position to lead a normal life; to eat and to love at her will.

Although Sharmila is an important part of the book, perhaps the pivotal point for the author to start her investigation into the conflict zone, Bhonsle does not lose sight of the situation while telling the larger story of Manipur. AFSPA is just one part of the hugely complex narrative. There are several active and dormant insurgent groups fighting with the Indian forces, and there are also several ethnic groups that are fighting with each other, making the conflict extremely complicated. ‘The story of Manipur is that of a running, live scar of a battle’, says Bhonsle in the book. She adds, ‘Arms are everywhere, and the distinction between heroes and villains is unclear’.

Bhonsle, in her meticulously researched book, identified the instances where the Indian Army has played a destructive role in disrupting peace in Manipur. The horrific case of Manorama Devi, who was mercilessly tortured and killed by the Assam Rifles in July 2004, is one such instance which compelled 12 women to take an extreme step by giving up their modesty and protest without clothes in front of Kangla fort with banners that read ‘Indian Army, Rape Us’ in bold red ink. ‘Everyone was forced to look at it, engage with it,’ Bhonsle writes. It was only after that protest at the Kangla fort, an inquiry commission headed by district judge Chungkham Upendra Singh was set up. However, the dirty power games of AFSPA soon kicked in. Assam Rifles, who had immunity under AFSPA, Section 6, refused to cooperate with the inquiry. A long legal battle in lower and higher courts later, the Supreme Court has accepted the case for hearing in the court and asked for Upendra Singh’s report as a part of the litigation. Bhonsle succeeds in bringing out a story of a society ravaged by the violence of armed forces, police and faction-ridden insurgency.

The book is important for many reasons: it is a mirror to the prejudices of mainstream India towards the Northeast, it gives a detailed insight into the conflict-ridden state of Manipur not just from the security forces’ perspective but also from the point of view of the insurgent groups, and most importantly, it is a book meant for the State to learn a powerful lesson on human rights. Bhonsle has managed to blend her skill as an investigative reporter along with her lyrical style of narration, in bringing out this highly commendable and crucial book.

MOTHER, WHERE’S MY COUNTRY?
LOOKING FOR LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS OF MANIPUR

Speaking Tiger, pg 250


— Anubha Bhonsle
 
 


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