Our own Liu Xiaobo
Posted on December 16, 2010 | Author: Amrith Lal | View 173
Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his pursuit of freedom through peaceful and non-violent means. India was among the many nations that defied China’s call for a boycott of the Nobel ceremony. New Delhi didn’t quite welcome the choice.
The decision to attend the ceremony may have had more to do with the need to adopt a public posture that India refuses to be arm-twisted by China. And, of course, the land of Gandhi has to be seen as an ally of a peace activist.
But where do we stand when it comes to homegrown peace warriors? What if one of them is awarded a Nobel in recognition of a fight to uphold the democratic rights of the people?
Will New Delhi take a principled stand and applaud the choice and recant its mistakes? Or, will we too accuse the Nobel committee of intervening in India’s internal affairs?
Nation states debate human rights but they need not necessarily respect them. India is no exception.
How else can one explain the Indian state’s response to Irom Sarmila? Her epic struggle completed 10 years in November.
The Manipuri poet-activist has been on hunger strike for over a decade to protest the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in use in many parts of her home state.
The draconian law promulgated to deal with insurgency creates a state of exception for the armed forces. Under this state of exception the armed forces have unlimited powers to lord over the lives of ordinary people.
Legal recourse to any violation of the latter’s rights is next to impossible. Dead people, in any case, don’t debate human rights.
Liu chose to fight the state of exception in China by working on Charter 08, a manifesto of dissidents who want liberal democracy to flourish in China. Sarmila’s penance is to cleanse India’s body politic.
She has deployed her body as a weapon to seek her goal. Her choice to give up food has made her a security risk for the State.
Her act undermines the moral logic of the State’s right over citizens. Every 12 months she’s taken into custody for attempting suicide. She’s fed forcibly to ensure that her hunger for freedom doesn’t result in her death.
Her living presence exposes the hollowness of a State’s claim to respect the rights of its citizens.
The State knows that it can’t let her vow reach its logical end. It prefers to be shamed by her struggle. But can we, citizens, be blind to her struggle?
Fragrance of Peace, a collection of her poems in Meiteilon, her native language, and now available in English, is her charter for freedom.
She writes about her urge to live like a child, “without malice to anybody/without hurting anyone/with tongue held right/let me live/like a child/a three-month old/without conjuring the web of imagination/in the pure citadel of mind/like a naïve ignorant soul/with hopes held high/like a devoted mother/nursing her precious jewel/possessive of her priceless treasure/let me live/like a child/like an ambitionless insect/ contented/selflessly.”
Elsewhere, she notes,“when life comes to its end/my lifeless body/please carry it/and place it on the peak of Father Koubru/my dead body/to reduce it to cinder amidst the flames/chopping it with axe and spade/fills my mind with revulsion/ the ‘skin’ that is sure to dry out/let it rot under the ground/let it be of some use to the future generations/let it transform into ore in the mines/I’ll spread the fragrance of peace/from Kanglei, my birthplace/in the ages to come/to every nook and cranny of the world”.
Should peace be a fragrance only in the utopia of poetry? Just what purpose does statecraft serve if it can’t usher in peace in our daily lives? And are we to believe that we need to kill to buy peace?
Sarmila’s poetry is an elaboration of her political action. Peace becomes a potent word when she utters it.
It knocks off our pretensions to be a sensitive society and reminds us the moral dimension of politics. To borrow Sarmila’s words, “the power of your sorrow-filled body can crush mountain and metropolis”.
The choice before the Indian state is to talk to her, buy peace with her. That may call for the State to reconsider its understanding of insurgencies. Ten years are a long wait for peace.
It’s also a wait that may have reduced the legitimacy of the State to talk on behalf of the citizens.
Further inaction only gives credence to the argument that the Indian State recognises only the language of violence. Perhaps, a Nobel for Sarmila will help.