What is the army doing in Manipur?

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Oishik Sircar
Oishik Sircar

In The Doc
A Column On Documentaries

Film: Tales From The Margins
Director: Kavita Joshi

PROTEST AGAINST State repression took on a new meaning in independent India when Irom Sharmila went on a fast-unto-death on 4 November 2000 to protest against the army brutalities in Manipur, made legitimate by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Her decision to use her body as the means to register protest was inspired by an incident in Malom, when in response to a bombing of a military convoy by insurgents, the army shot dead 10 civilians. Sharmila was arrested on charges of attempted suicide and has since remained in custody, being force-fed through artificial means.

Long wait for justice Irom Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for more than a decade
Long wait for justice Irom Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for more than a decade
Photo: Kavita Joshi

On 15 July 2004, middle-aged women in Imphal stood naked outside the Assam Rifles Headquarters shouting: “Indian Army rape us! Kill us! We are all Manorama’s mothers!” Their bodies had become their weapon to protest against the innumerable ‘disappearances’ of civilians accused of being insurgents by the army, particularly that of Thangjam Manorama, who was apprehended, raped and killed in custody earlier that month.

Three stories, including the above two events, form the core of Kavita Joshi’s film Tales from the Margins— the title signifying both the geographical and metaphoric marginality of Manipur and its people from mainstream national consciousness. The third event that the film is woven around is the story of Sanmacha Yumlembam, a 15-year-old boy who was apprehended from his home in February 1998 by the army and then ‘disappeared’.

Joshi’s camera captures the idyllic landscapes of Manipur, interspersed with images of the everyday and ordinary lives of its people living in one of the world’s most militarised zones — declared ‘disturbed’ by AFSPA for more than five decades — giving the armed forces a free rein to apprehend, abduct and kill at will.

The poetic frames in the film capture Sharmila’s moments of anguish and determination

What makes it an important film is not only its telling of the life and times of a draconian law and the way it destroys the social fabric of a peaceful community, but the poetic frames that capture Sharmila’s moments of anguish, determination and hope inside the security ward of JN Hospital in Imphal. Although it has been four years since the film was made, her courageous words haunt, disturb and inspire you in the 10th year of her protest: “That very happy day will come one day, but for the time being I must endure. I must be contented. I must be patient.” For how much longer?

oishiksircar@gmail.com

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