By Shikha Sreenivas
In October last year, two months after breaking her 16-year-long hunger strike, Irom Sharmila announced the formation of a new party, Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) in Manipur, to continue her fight against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and to bring “non-violence, peace, and understanding” to the North East.
PRJA has now set up a fundraiser on the crowdfunding platform Ketto to raise money with the help of public instead of “relying on powerful lobbies and interest groups”. The funds will reportedly be used to publish campaign materials, spread their message through TV, newspapers, radio, and social media, and to hold meetings, rallies, and discussions.
Irom Sharmila, who is known as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’, went on a 16 year hunger strike – the longest that has ever been taken – to protest AFSPA which has been a tool for state-sanctioned abuse and human right violations in the North-East and Kashmir. The campaign website says that there have been 1528 undocumented illegal killings by civil and security forces, apart from numerous unreported and unaccounted rapes, disappearances and instances of violence.
PRJA says that unemployment rates are high, corruption is rampant, and the failure of meritocracy, has resulted in widespread drug and alcohol abuse amongst Manipuri youth. The public funds are being looted by politicians and local contractors, and national political parties ultimate interest is extracting natural resources. Policies like AFSPA are used to silence voices of dissent.
The result, the campaign website explains, is a state that is constantly plagued by violence and ethnic division. In 2016, 258 out of 366 days were bandhs and blockades.
The team is led by Irom Sharmila, Erendo Leichombam, Najma Bibi, James Mayengbam and Bowang Kho, all of whom are prominent human right activists, and represent a range of groups and ethnicities. PRJA says it will create change through transparency and accountability, more humane policies, fostering a generation of youths, trying to reduce regional disparity in development, removing the gap between leadership and the people, as well as efforts to build a collective consciousness and “destroying unjust instruments that colonise our humanity, and hateful narratives determined to divide our homeland”.