Irom Sharmila: Democracy exists “only in name”; govt disregards people’s sentiments when making decisions

Manipur human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila has criticised the NDA government, accusing it of disregarding people’s sentiments when making policy decisions

Photo by Karun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Karun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images


Manipur human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila has criticised the NDA government, accusing it of disregarding people's sentiments when making policy decisions.

Democracy exists in the country "only in name" under the current dispensation, she said, urging people to vote for bringing about a change in the country.

Lambasting the "all-controlling" government at the Centre, Sharmila, who had observed a 16-year-long hunger strike seeking revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur, said, "Democratic leaders are servants of people, not controllers. They need to respect people's opinions before making policy decisions." Describing the provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill as "complicated", she said the Centre should have taken the popular sentiment into consideration before introducing the legislation in the lower house.

"They (Modi government) are trying to control everything based on their beliefs and system. There is a long history of suffering and discrimination... There is a sense of backwardness among people in the area (northeast), which lacks development.

"It is a long way before a bill like that gets accepted by people. You (the government) need to understand the sentiment of millions of people residing in those areas and analyse the ground situation before taking a decision," she told PTI in an exclusive interview.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to grant nationality to non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, after six years of residence in India.

The legislation, passed by Lok Sabha on January 8, wasn't tabled in Rajya Sabha during the last Parliament session of the present government. It is set to lapse on June 3, when the term of the lower house ends.

Sharmila, however, admitted that finding an alternative to the Modi government won't be an easy task.

"Bringing in an alternative force won't be easy at this juncture. The voters have to come forward and bring about the change. It is important to raise consciousness of people," the activist, who was here on a personal visit, said without elaborating the reason for her assertion.

Asked whether she was willing to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election, the 'Iron Lady of Manipur' said, "it wasn't her cup of tea".

Sharmila had floated a political party — People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance — after ending her hunger strike in 2016.

She contested Manipur Assembly election in 2017 from Thoubal constituency against three-time Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh but managed to bag only 90 out of 27,271 votes polled.

"I'm no more interested in politics. I've already experienced electoral politics and the dirtiness involved in the process. Knowing the reality, I have realised that politics is not my cup of tea," she stated.

Accusing the political parties of trying to secure vote banks by cashing in on border-related crisis, Sharmila said, "Matters related to immigration and international boundary are sensitive." Sharmila also condemned the killing of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh, saying "dirty politics" led to her death.

Lankesh was shot dead by assailants outside her home in Karnataka in September 2017.

"She was killed for being an outspoken person who fearlessly wrote about corruption and injustice. The same was the fate of Dalit student Rohith Chakravarti Vemula, who committed suicide after protesting against caste oppression. I cannot imagine that such things are happening in my country," she added.

Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, had committed suicide on the campus in January 2016. Opposition parties had blamed Vemula's alleged harassment by groups affiliated to the BJP and the RSS for his suicide.

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