After Anna,Irom Sharmila grips student imagination

Pune students to kick off signature campaign in colleges, hold seminars and candlelight marches to build support for Manipur Iron Lady's 11-year campaign for repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

After their massive show of support for anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare during his recent indefinite hunger strike for the Jan Lokpal bill, students in the city are gearing up for one more big campaign for another activist known for taking on the government using the Gandhian means of fasting.

Youth power: Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for 11 years

Irom Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for being on a hunger strike for 11 years to press for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), has so impressed students here that they have set their minds on building a groundswell of support for her in the city.

Students from the city at a demonstration in support of anti-corruption
crusader Anna Hazare during his recent Lokpal bill fast. File pics

Towards this end, student groups from various colleges in the city along with activists of the National Alliance for People's Movement (NAPM) and other NGOs have decided to start a signature campaign. Starting from this week, volunteers will visit colleges to encourage youth across the city to participate in the movement 'Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign'. Their aim is to collect thousands of signatures and organise seminars and candlelight marches for the next couple of weeks to raise awareness on the AFSPA.

"We want to approach as many people and students from various colleges as we can to encourage them to participate in the decade- old struggle for the repeal of the AFSPA," said Suhas Kolhekar, member of NAPM, Pune division.

Kolhekar has also approached Gandhi Bhavan in Kothrud to allow them to hold seminars. The activists have demanded that the government make serious efforts to have a meaningful dialogue with Sharmila, who is being force-fed through her nose by the government.

The activists say the government should immediately work out and announce a phased, time-bound demilitarisation plan to withdraw the army and other paramilitary forces from internal security duties in the Northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir. They have also asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to visit Sharmila and Manipur to give take note of the human rights violation in the region and take appropriate action.

The nationwide signature campaign started from October 2, which is Gandhi Jayanti, and will culminate in Delhi on December 10, Human Rights Day. "We will collect signatures and hand these over to President Pratibha Patil on December 10. We have also demanded the repeal of other draconian laws like the UAPA, MCOCA, and CSPSA," said Mukta Shrivastava, an activist. "We want to resist the increasing curtailment of democratic spaces."

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