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March 8 and Irom Sharmila

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

International Women's Day (IWD) has been observed since in the early 1900's—a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. International Women's Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity. No one government, NGO, charity, corporation, academic institution, women's network or media hub is solely responsible for International Women's Day. Many organisations declare an annual IWD theme that supports their specific agenda or cause, and some of these are adopted more widely with relevance than others.

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights". International Women's Day is all about celebration, reflection, advocacy, and action—whatever that looks like globally at a local level. No doubt, International Women's Day has been occurring for over a century. But actual empowering of women in India remains a distant reality. In India gender equality remains a fantasy or mirage. It mocks at this years UN theme for IWD—"Planet 50 : 50 by 2030—Step it up for Gender Equality". On this International Women's Day, Irom Sharmila deserves serious attention especially from women activists. She is the voice of voiceless, she is the symbol of women's power. She shows women can make a difference.

The Manipur Court on Monday [February 29, 2016] released Irom Sharmila, who has been on a 15-year-long hunger strike to press for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, from custody.

Sharmila was charged with attempting to commit suicide under Section 309 of IPC. However the court found no evidence to establish that she is trying to commit suicide and accordingly ordered her release.

Given Sharmila's condition and her resolve to continue her fast unto death, she may be re-arrested.

She has been arrested, tried and released several times on the charge of trying to take her own life.

Sharmila is also undergoing trial in the Patiala House court in Delhi on the same charge.

"I shall continue the fast at the footsteps of the Shahid Minar in Imphal town. I will not eat anything till my goal is achieved", she said while coming out of the court room.

Sharmila had started her hunger strike on November 4, 2000. Her main demand is the repeal of the AFSPA, 1958.

She expressed regret over the declining support to her cause, particularly from women activists.

It's tragic that women activists and civil society organisations have distanced themselves from Sharmila and her cause.

In view of the declining support, however, she has said several times that there should be a public debate on whether she should continue her fast.

She is guarded round-the-clock by jail, police and hospital staff. The government is spending about Rs 70,000 a month on her medication and feeding her through the nose.

The slogan of 'Make everday International Women's Day' is meaningless to Irom Sharmila unless social activists, civil liberations, Women's Groups 'think globally and act locally'.

[contributed]
08-03-2016

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 36, Mar 13 - 19, 2016