activist life

What the end of Irom Sharmila’s non-violent fast tells us about India

The woman with a nasal tube has announced that she will end her 16-year fast on Tuesday.

When people in Manipur talk about Irom Sharmila, they often show a frustrated pride. Frustration at the fact that India has learnt to live with a woman who hasn’t chewed on anything for close to 16 years, and pride at the quiet strength and fortitude she has shown in her quest to force the government to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

There’s also frustration that the “Iron lady of Manipur” is no one’s particular problem. There is no national guilt when it comes to her, no breathless media keeping the momentum alive, no resolutions, dialogue or engagement.

Sharmila’s peaceful protest is a like an echo chamber, reverberating the same sound in an enclosed space, while the State outside remains totally deaf.

A mind of her own

The frustration then deepens in some sections when they realise that an independent, strong-willed woman lives at the other end of a nasal feeding tube.

Sharmila may be a frail, incarcerated being, but she will not conform to behaviour others consider to be appropriate. She has the audacity to fall in love and protest at the same time. She is brave, hopeful, and perhaps tired enough to come to a pragmatic decision that if a decade and a half of peaceful protest built on Gandhian principles of non-violence has not resulted in much, then perhaps something needed to turn.

There is no denying that Sharmila has taken a courageous decision, and a welcome one, in returning to life with all its pleasures.

It has not been easy. The initial shock at her July 26 announcement that she was ending her fast has given way to a muted welcome. There is a sense of disbelief. Security has been stepped up around her ward at the Jawaharlal Nehru hospital, and she hasn’t been allowed any visitors since she made the announcement. The list of those wanting to meet her has grown manifold in the past 10 days.

Her force-feeding has continued, and everyone is waiting for August 9, the day she is expected to break her fast.

There are fissures within her family about what needs to be done, and immense pressure on them to get Sharmila to reverse her decision.

Two insurgent groups, Kangleipak Yawol Kunna Lup and the Kangleipak Communist Party have already sent Sharmila a warning and reminded her of what happened to “former revolutionary leaders [who] were assassinated” because they forgot the cause they were fighting for.

Sharmila herself has been tense, say those around her.

“She was visibly excited, relieved that day [the day she announced she would end her fast],” said a hospital staff member who did not want to be identified. “She had mentioned that she was going to do this to some of us a few days ago. She had been preparing the statement she read to the media that day, for weeks…Since then she has been very quiet, very stressed.”

On occasions, Sharmila has mentioned to those around her that after Tuesday, she will go and live with nuns.

The futility of non-violence?

Sharmila’s decision to give up her fast and join the electoral process needs to be supported. Yet it forces us to face a harsh reality too. Why did a non-violent movement like hers not succeed? Why was sustaining collective action so difficult? And why did the Indian State not bother to engage with her in a coherent fashion?

Nelson Mandela, whose books are scattered in Sharmila’s hospital room in Imphal, once said: “For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”

I am unable to confirm whether Sharmila has read or heard of this quote, but it’s clear that over the last four years, the ineffectiveness of her non-violent protest was becoming clear to her.

Barring a few, protests these days are violent more often than not. If violent actors are the only ones that get 24x7 attention and dominate the news cycle, they become the touchstones of a political life. In the face of this, a non-violent movement does not even look like a viable option. It becomes invisible, as if it never happened, more so if it takes place in the periphery of the country where the media’s interest is anyway piecemeal.

In Sharmila’s case the 16-year-long fast may have well begun yesterday. The repeal of the Act – which gives unbridled powers to the armed forces, practically giving them a “right to kill” – was something that she did not even get close to. Recommendations of three high-powered panels, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission, second Administrative Reforms Commission and the Justice JS Verma Committee that discussed the Act in the context of sexual violence against women in conflict areas changed nothing.

If we go back further, the setting up of the Jeevan Reddy Commission itself came in the aftermath of a peaceful but brutally stark protest by 11 Manipuri women who bared themselves in front of the Kangla Fort after the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama.

An unyielding state

Manipur is like a jigsaw puzzle piece wedged between Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam on one side and Myanmar on the other. There are sporadic explosions of violence, and concurrent running bandhs called by opposing sides. Small bombs and killings can be used to settle scores. And there are deep lurking tensions, ethnic and more, which come out noisily in the open before returning to a simmer.

The last decade-and-a-half provided the State a vast length of opportunity to talk, engage, show its compassion, and use Sharmila’s moral force to change things on the ground, it did nothing of the sort.

The Irom resistance

When Gene Sharp, the godfather of the field devoted to studying civil resistance, devised his list of “198 methods of nonviolent action”, he divided the tactics into three categories.

The first had methods of “protest and persuasion”, including public assemblies, processions, displays of banners. The second was confrontational measures that included economic boycotts and workplace strikes. The last was a refusal to participate in political or economic structures, but also intent to actively interrupt normal daily activity. Such interventions, Sharp wrote, posed a direct, immediate challenge, “the disruptive effects harder to withstand for a considerable period of time”.

It’s clear Sharmila did not follow Sharp. Neither did her campaign, which remained centred on her sacrifice and her retching force-feeding procedure. Access to her remained patchy and cumbersome, and she managed single-digit press conferences in 16 years.

As the years passed, the frenzy to mark her release after a one-year term [the maximum sentence for an attempt to commit suicide] was much diminished. In most years, in the short 48-hour period during which she was free, about 50-75 people would come to see her or stay with her.

Activity at the temporary shed, about 100 meters from the hospital, where she stayed every year upon her release, was modest, fuelled mostly by the presence of security. It would fall to a trickle as night fell, and was empty in the days after her arrest when she returned to her hospital bed to begin a fresh year in custody under the same charge of attempting to commit suicide.

Emma Goldman, an anarchist known for her political activism once said: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal."

Sharmila’s decision to join politics cannot be faulted in any way. Her faith in democracy has been unwavering. This, in a state where multiple insurgent groups challenge the sovereignty of the Indian State every day and are kept engaged with guns, stipends and peace talks. The contrast is shameful. India preferred a nasal rubber tube to become the enduring symbol of its engagement with a 44-year-old, non-violent protestor.

Anubha Bhonsle is the author of a book about Manipur titled Mother, Where’s My Country?

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.