Monday, May 28, 2007

Acceptance speech by Irom Singhajit Singh
(receiving the award on behalf of his sister Irom Sharmila Chanu)

Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, and dear friends:

I am deeply moved by the honour bestowed on my sister Irom Sharmila Chanu. The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is an acknowledgement of the struggle carried out by Sharmila and all my brothers and sisters of Manipur. I humbly accept this on their behalf.

We were in Manipur, a province in the North East part of India when we heard the news that she would be receiving this award. Sharmila herself is currently imprisoned by the Manipuri authorities and is kept in confinement at the J.N. Hospital in Imphal. For more than six years she has continued in this manner – refusing food and water – forced to live with a tube pushed down her nose. In the midst of all the violence, the brutal misuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, she is still resolved to continue with her non-violent protest.

We are privileged to be here in your midst today. This prestigious award is a great honor for women everywhere who struggle for justice. This award is an acknowledgement and valuable support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and justice by peaceful means. It is indeed a boost to our moral courage and we are grateful to know that people beyond our country are recognizing her humble effort to sustain human dignity and right to life. I would like to thank your kind and goodhearted gesture in embracing our suffering. Receiving this award is another important step in Sharmila’s nonviolent protest against the killing of innocent civilians by the armed forces.

We have been brought up in a lower middle class family and Sharmila is the youngest of nine children. She had to discontinue her education after 12th standard. She has always been motivated to follow a holistic lifestyle – choosing to conserve energy in every way possible and caring deeply about the environment. Sharmila showed an early interest in Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest. To strengthen her resolve and not be weakened by any persuasion, she has not met her mother since her fast began – resolving to meet her when she reaches her destination – repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

She has been arrested and detained under section 309 of Indian Penal Code (attempt to commit suicide) in the hospitals of Manipur and Delhi fort the past six years. In fact it is now almost 2400 days since she has been on hunger strike. She has remained currently without solid food since then in one single room of JN hospital, demanding withdrawal from her state, of one of the most draconian laws in the statue books called Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958.

Irom Sharmila Chanu, who is protesting the killing of 10 innocent people in Nov ’2000 by the Army in Malom, Manipur, India, has become synonymous with the agitation against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Act gives draconian powers to the security forces and has repeatedly been used with brutality in the North East and Kashmir.

Sharmila has become one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage fro the conflict areas of North East India in recent years. She has become an important symbol, in the struggle against oppression. She has refused to give up on her belief that no guns but peaceful protest will make the nation engage with Manipur’s plight.

If I may be permitted for a moment, I would like to be more specific and like to briefly raise few personal sharing. In over 6 years of my sister fasting, I have encountered many situations in my life, but one of the most confusing and difficult situations I faced is how to stop her fasting. I simply do not want to see her dying slowly in front of my eyes helplessly. All I have are simple, natural positive examples and testimonies of victims. Statistics fluctuate, and theories can be challenged, but life experience will stand in time. We can no longer accept this as an outcome of a system existing in our country, nor can we view recovery for such challenges by giving justification of implementing extraordinary laws to deal with extraordinary situation violating all democratic principles. We need a global perspective, a coherent perspective which ensures that the components, where warranted, contributing to a good system take place and be there for each and all. We the citizens of India deserve it. The reason why we live in a society where we build instruments such as Human Rights Commission is to aim towards the supreme goal of ensuring that the fundamental rights of each be respected, that the opportunities be made available to access a quality of life that is worthy of being Indian, that these rights and opportunities be there for all, no matter the differences or barriers, whether those be of conscience, caste, sex or creed.

A just society must ensure that its most marginalized people are protected and have an opportunity to participate in true development. Our legislators need to intensify their listening, and understand the needs of those people living with economic deprivation due to armed conflict between state and non state actors. Beyond government, we have a duty to be interested in our neighbor, our friends or a family member for whom life is difficult. It is through this community self-help that the light will shine on us, and help us recognize our own strengths and fears. It is here, that equality and accessibility begin, and, by crossing this journey with an open spirit, we shall realize that we are all the same at the core, and that we are all part of this human family.

Once again I would like to thank Gwanju Prize Human Rights team who has shown faith in my sister, Irom Sharmila Chanu, and supported her struggle for peace in the conflict areas. It is not possible for me to pass this opportunity without expressing my appreciation towards those who have come through the doors of our activity centre. I also want to thank my mother, family, and friends from the civil society for their support and encouragement in Shamila’s movement.

Thank you very much!
Irom Singhjit Singh (brother of Irom Sharmila Chanu)
Manipur, India

No comments:

Irom Sharmila Video

Irom Sharmila is a young woman of Manipur who has been on a fast-to-death for nearly 7 years now. She has been demanding the removal of a brutal law from her land. Manipur is a north-east Indian state (bordering Myanmar), riven for decades by insurgency and armed separatist movements. The Government of India has attempted to control the situation militarily, granting drastic powers to the security forces. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act enforced in the region lets people be arrested, shot and even killed - on suspicion alone. But Sharmila is willing to stake everything -- even her life -- to restore justice and dignity to her people.