Irom Sharmilla to work for Kashmiri women

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NEW DELHI, May 12: After quitting 16 years of her activism against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in northeast, Irom Sharmila is making a comeback; this time in Kashmir. The world’s longest hunger striker and civil rights activist who went without food and water for over 500 weeks has decided to go to Kashmir and work for Kashmiri women.
Sharmila who is traveling with her husband Desmond Coutinho to understand challenges of common citizens across India, told the TOI on phone from Pune, that she was deeply moved by the images of violence and strife in Kashmir, that appear in media. “There is a wrong projection that everyone in Kashmir is a Pakistani. I feel these are our own people and I must do something for them,” she said after meeting a group of Kashmiri students at Pune based Sarhad school which has adopted 105 Kashmiri children for education since 2004.
“I am motivated by the cause of Kashmiri women because in any protracted conflict, women are the worst sufferers. I have seen injustices and atrocities committed against women in Manipur and I feel a certain similarity between Manipur and Kashmir,” she said.
A delegation of Kashmiris had met Sharmila in Manipur a few years ago when she was still on a hunger strike against AFSPA, an act that grants unbridled powers and impunity to Indian Army in disturbed areas. Human rights activists in northeast and Jammu and Kashmir find a common cause due to the fact that the Act remains implemented in both the regions, which are otherwise geographically and ethnically disparate.
However, last month, the Central government withdrew AFSPA from Meghalaya and some parts of Arunachal Pradesh after 27 years. The draconian nature of the Act has also been rendered ineffective since 2016 when the Supreme Court directed that the armed forces could not be exempted from investigation for excesses even in disturbed areas.
“The situation in Manipur is improving too and I feel the need to move on from northeast. I tried keeping quiet but I can’t silence myself. My conscience bothers me and commands me to take up various issues of ordinary people. I have been following Kashmir and I feel I can do something for women in Kashmir,” Sharmila said.
“I am not against Army or India. I believe in Indian democracy and institutions but I do feel that we need to strengthen our nation by upholding human rights,” she said.
An indefatigable champion of human rights, Sharmila was scorned by her supporters in Manipur when she decided in 2016 to end her 16-year-long fast and join politics. Disillusioned by the adverse public reaction to her decision, Sharmila went on to marry her long-time partner Coutinho and since then lives in Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. The couple is ready to now go to Kashmir and has been in talks even with Anna Hazare, the activist face of India Against Corruption movement. “We have asked Anna to join us too,” Sharmila said. (TNN)