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Prisoners of Peace
Published in SAGE Publications Inc.
Volume: 42
Issue: 3
Pages: 121 - 134
As Irom Sharmila Chanu breaks her sixteen-yearlong fast on August 9, 2016, struggle for peace in India’s Northeast seems to have turned a full circle. On the one hand, her battle against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958—the law that empowers even a noncommissioned army officer to open fire on a civilian and in the process kill her with impunity, that is to say, without ever being tried in a court of law—by all accounts made her the “iron lady” and “the Face of Manipur” to the world. On the other hand, notwithstanding her indefinite fast—widely believed to be emblematic of the “collective moral outrage” against the Act—persistent appeals made by a host of national and international human rights groups, eminent public intellectuals, and the recommendation of the respective Committees in favor of repealing it, the Act remains very much in force in parts of Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast even after fifty-eight years of its enactment, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians. This article seeks to explain the implications of this paradox for peace politics in the region. Why does Sharmila have to take the otherwise painful and albeit difficult decision of breaking her fast even when there is little sign of repealing the Act? Insofar as she takes the difficult decision of breaking her fast, she realizes that her prolonged fast becomes subjected to a variety of technologies of governance: first, by calling for the complete sacrifice of her private life, second by turning her fast into a public spectacle rendering it both “unsuccessful” and necessary—significantly both at the same time—and finally by inculcating in her and in many of us the intense desire of pursuing peace through the established political institutions, particularly electoral institutions. © 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.
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