without a pause
Sharmila is not allowed to ineract with the media without a written permission from the SP
Bibi Satwant Kaur: In the driving seat
Protest without a pause
Irom Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for over four years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Manipur. Nava Thakuria reports
Irom Chanu Sharmila has changed the face of protest in Manipur. Sharmila, 33, recently completed four years of her fast-unto-death, a protest she began in November 2000 against the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA) in her state. Curly-haired Sharmila started her non-violent protest immediately after the Malom massacre, where security personnel killed 10 innocent people.
Today, a frail Sharmila is kept in a well-guarded ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal. For roughly four years now, Sharmila has been forced fed through a nasal tube. But she will not give up her fast, which was recently declared by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest protest by an individual for a social cause.
Born in 1972 to Irom Nanda and Irom Shakhi, Sharmila is the youngest of nine children. She was always considered very brave and sensitive. She took the decision to protest against the massacre of 10 people by the security personnel a day after the incident (November 2, 2000). On the third day of the fast-unto-death, Sharmila was arrested by the state police and charged of attempting to commit suicide.
In 2002, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told Sharmila that as the government would not be able to repeal the Act, keeping in view the law and order situation of the state, she should withdraw her agitation. However, Sharmila is said to have told Singh, "I love peace very much...but first of all we must have the right to justice."
Later in the year, a frustrated Singh is claimed to have told the Manipur State Assembly that the state government had spent Rs 147,000 in two years to keep Sharmila `alive’.
Sharmila’s elder brother, Irom Shinghajit, however feels that his sister is ‘half dead’ and has developed several complications due to prolonged starvation. But the family respects her wishes. She has often told them: "I don’t mind if I die some day during my protest. But I will continue my stir until AFSPA is removed."
Sharmila has been supported by a number of human rights workers and social activists in the Northeast. Dr Gina Sangkham, President of the Naga Women Union of Manipur, wrote to the Central Government in 2004: "Naga women endorse Sharmila’s stand. We are solidly behind her. We appreciate her and are in solidarity with her."
In 2003, there was a clamour and President APJ Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were requested to intervene in Sharmila’s case. There was a demand that the ‘disturbed area’ status be removed from Manipur.
AFSPA empowers security forces to arrest and enter property without warrant, and to use excessive force (including shooting or killing, even if the lives of the members of the security force are not at imminent risk).
The Act facilitates impunity because no person can initiate legal action against any member of the armed forces for anything done under the Act, without permission of the central government.
AFSPA was first enforced in Assam. Insurgency-torn Manipur was placed under AFSPA in 1980. Manipur has witnessed innumerable killings ever since. Chief Minister Singh admits, "Over 12,000 security personnel and insurgents, and 8,000 innocent people have lost their lives till date." Home to 30 ethnic groups, Manipur has the largest number of armed outfits (25) demanding anything from total independence to self-determination.
In the last decade, the armed forces have often been accused of committing brutalities under AFSPA. The brutal July 11 (2004) slaying of weaver Manorama Thangjam, 32, by the men of Assam Rifles sparked off a public outcry. When the protests failed to elicit any response from the authorities, angry women stripped naked and rattled the gates of Kangla Fort (once the headquarters of the Assam Rifles) demanding justice.
In November 2004, during his visit to the state, Prime Minster Manmohan Singh assured Sharmila that the government would review the controversial law to fight insurgents in the region. Later, a review committee was constituted by the Central Government to review the imposition of AFPSA in the entire Northeast. Both the Prime Minister and the chief minister requested Sharmila to give up her agitation. But Sharmila said, "I will continue my non-violent agitation until my demand is fulfilled."
Currently under a 24-hour vigil by the staff of the Criminal Investigation Department, Sharmila is not allowed to interact with the media. In fact, without a written permission from the Superintendent of Police, no one is allowed to meet her in the hospital.
Despite the struggle, Sharmila has kept her creative force alive. She has completed two poetry books in Manipuri, Imadi Khongdai Setlaroi and Khunai Kanba Numit and often writes for newspapers and magazines in Manipur. — WFS
From a semi-literate noblewoman who had not stepped out with her head uncovered for the better part of her life, Satwant has come a long way, writes Gurvinder Kaur
How does one go about describing Bibi Satwant Kaur? Is she a philanthropist, an agriculturalist, an entrepreneur, a sarpanch or a gutsy rural woman? There is no doubting the fact that here is one woman who has defied stereotypes to live life on her own terms. She seats herself on a tractor and oversees the milking of the buffaloes in her dairy. Satwant Kaur chose to grapple with adversity head-on. Widowed at 40 and left alone to face virtual penury to an income running into multiple figures.
This 70-year-old sarpanch of Sular near Patiala lives alone in her house adjoining her fields and dairy. She has contributed significantly to the cause of special children by donating two acres of prime agricultural land to Navjivini, a school which imparts special education to the mentally handicapped and Sadhu Basant Residential Care—a home for mentally challenged persons, she has earmarked another two acres for the establishment of a Bal Bhavan here. "Bibiji" as she is fondly called is both loved and feared for her candour. Her only precondition while discussing the project was that the special children to be rehabilitated through these institutions be treated with both love and dignity. Satwant kaur certainly did not mince her words when she told the management of Navjivini that in the event of any child being maltreated here she would simply ‘shoot everyone dead.’
She visits both the centres regularly and is actively involved in all activities undertaken by them. Satwant Kaur certainly believes in carrying the show single handedly. She has set up a trust from her savings which caters to not only these institutions but also a host of other NGOs. Each and every rupee that she has pooled into her social work has been earned by dint of manual work. Refusing to either despair or beg for help she started picked up the pieces of her life nearly thirty years ago after she lit the funeral pyre of her husband even as penuary stared her in the face.
Her source of income is her dairy wherein she has nearly 250 bovine, all of which except six buffaloes owned by the family originally, have been accumulated gradually by her over the last 20 years . It was here she started shaping her destiny by milking her six cows and selling the product. Her day now starts with an early morning visit to her dairy which she has automated. Next, she moves on to her fields and if not satisfied with the ploughing she takes to the tractor herself. By taking on to the fields herself besides launching into dairy farming, Satwant Kaur ensured a steady farm income and slowly the money started accumulating.
Displaying shrewdness and business acumen one does not normally associate with a rural woman Satwant began investing her money in sound schemes. Building around her modest three room house the lady added on to the structure besides constructing a larger dairy. After stabilising her sources of income Bibiji took upon herself to find a greater purpose in life by looking after those less privileged than herself.
"The needy constantly remind me of the helplessness I faced when confronted with poverty. The family I married into was a noble family attached to the Maharaja`s court, however easy living coupled with the abolition of Rajwaras gradually brought my husband on the brink of ruin. With my husband being chronically ill we were cheated of most of our property by either encroachers or our managers", relates Satwant Kaur. In fact, abandoned by well wishers and relatives she did not even have enough money for her husband`s funeral. " I have set my own set of rules, in fact I have thrived by them and I want to share God`s bounty with those who need it most ", says the lady with the large heart.
This is an age for a class of intelligent, high-achieving and high- earning contemporary women who have been labelled as ‘alpha females’. Contemporary men are scared of alpha females, reports the Daily Mail.
The term ‘alpha’ comes from the animal kingdom, in which species arrange themselves into a ranked order. Although this new class of alpha females seems to win it all on the professional front, their success in all walks makes it difficult for them to find a consistent life partner.
According to research, men get intimidated by their brains and achievements. Hence they are hesitant when it comes to getting married to them. They prefer settling down with women ‘like their mums’ who do not challenge them intellectually.
Two studies, in Britain
and the US, both substantiated the proposition that women successful in
their careers find it hard to get the same in their personal lives.
Another interesting study by the University of Michigan, suggested, men would rather marry women in subordinate jobs because they think high-flier women are more likely to commit adultery. — ANI
The world has been witness to what the United States and its allies have been doing in the post-9/11 scenario. There has been outrage from within the country and outside and one of the strongest voices against the unleashing of the terror in the name of ‘war on terror’ has been that of a fair lady. It takes courage to speak out thus and Irene Zubaida Khan, who joined Amnesty International as the organization’s seventh Secretary General in August 2001.
Recently in India, Irene is critical of the recent political developments in Nepal. She is the first Asian and the first Muslim to guide the world’s largest human rights organization. Taking up leadership of Amnesty International in its 40th anniversary year as the organization began a process of change and renewal to address the complex nature of contemporary human rights violations, and confronted the challenging developments in the wake of the attacks of 11 September. Violation of any kind of human rights is her chief concern and she does it not by words alone but by following what she says. Violence against women is a subject close to her heart and she has been active in this area in various countries.
This frail and beautiful woman who has shown her substance has had a long and brilliant career. She helped to found the development organization, Concern Universal, in 1977, and began her work as a human rights activist with the International Commission of Jurists in 1979. Irene joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1980, and worked in a variety of positions at Headquarters and in field operations to promote the international protection of refugees. From 1991-95 she was Senior Executive Officer to Mrs. Sadako Ogata, then UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
She was appointed as the UNHCR Chief of Mission in India in 1995, the youngest UNHCR country representative at that time, and in 1998 headed the UNHCR Centre for Research and Documentation. She led the UNHCR team in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, and was appointed Deputy Director of International Protection later that year. Irene studied law at the University of Manchester and Harvard Law School, specialising in public international law and human rights.
She is the recipient of several academic awards, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and the Pilkington "Woman of the Year" Award 2002. Well, it does take a woman to make an effort at putting the world right. Irene seems to be just that woman.
On a biz trip
Poonam Khubani recently led a delegation called the ‘High Powered Women Mission from USA and Canada’ to India. "I was the only woman of Indian origin and I led the group of top women from the USA and Canada," Poonam says, adding, "I went to the US in 1985, after an arranged marriage. I joined my husband’s business of telemarketing as a postal clerk because he wanted me to learn the ropes from the lowest rung. I worked my way up and now am President, TeleBrands International, a very successful worldwide, million-dollar business. We are the world’s second-largest such operation and work with a large number of television channels, marketing consumer goods which have a wide appeal. My husband chooses the brands and films the promos ,and I market the goods from Europe to Japan. We also market niche products like the Shri Yantra in India through television ads."
Poonam, the mother of three, lives in New York and has travelled to a number of countries for business sourcing. She says, "Most of our goods come from China. China and India are the world’s fastest-growing economies ." she finds that Indian women win hands down. They are independent decision-makers, free from male control.
Flamboyant in the enjoyment of their success, they are not apologetic about the strides they have made. They meet all situations with confidence and multi-task with aplomb. Chinese and others are doing exceedingly well, but the controls are still in male hands. Indian women are everywhere, holding powerful positions and creating wealth for the nation. They have set a great example for women the world over. Accompanying me are American women who head prestigious institutions like national museums and international companies that do business in many countries. I am proud to be the leader of the delegation and look forward to more Indian women winning international recognition."