Sharmila’s Hunger Strike To Repeal AFSPA Enters 16th Year  

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Irom Sharmila Chanu against AFSPA 1958
Irom Sharmila Chanu

Irom Sharmila, also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’, who has been on a fast, urging the government to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, completes 15 years of fasting. She has been on a hunger strike since November 2002.

In a bid to take advantage in every election in the Manipur state, political parties promised that if their party wins the election, the act will be repealed. However, post the election, political parties have consistently turned their backs on the issue.

Babloo Loitongbam, director of the Manipur Human Right Alert, said that, the Government hasn’t made an iota of an effort, to repeal the act from the state, apart from forming committees to look into the issue.

“National media gives interest only on her private life, love affairs. If she has a relationship with someone, the story is published in the front page, but, neglects her real cause,” Babloo tells Tehelka.

In order to shed light on the demands of the oppressed protester, the ‘Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign’, which is being supported by several groups, is organizing an international protest against AFSPA, on 1 and 2 November which will be extended up to 5 November.

“The campaign will be nationwide, in states – Delhi, Kolkata, Pune, Mizoram, Assam, Meghalaya, etc, and also in South Korea, Nepal, Indonesia, etc. During the campaign, candlelight vigil, hunger strike will be held in support of Sharmila in many parts, including the historic, Jantar Mantar,” Babloo adds.

What Triggered Sharmila Irom’s Protest

It was around 3:30pm on November 2, 2000, when ten innocent civilians were sprayed with bullets, by a troop of Assam Rifles, in Malom, 9 kms from the heart of the capital, Imphal. The heart wrenching incident not only killed the ten people who were waiting for a bus, but also took away the happiness, leaving behind a scar on the memories of the bereaved family. Amongst those who lost their lives on this fateful day, were two sons, now separated from their mother, as well as her sister.

This incident of brutality struck a sharp chord with a 28-year-old woman, who, upon seeing the severity of the situation, decided to forego food and water, until the law that licensed such heinous brutality was abrogated.

Irom Sharmila Chanu, who was on a religious fast on that fateful Thursday, vowed to continue her fast; from that day 15 years ago, Sharmila continues to fast till this day, against the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), an act that accords freedom to security forces when they operate in disturbed areas. Her demand is to repeal AFSPA from the state of Manipur.

The woman also known as the ‘Mengoubi’ has devoted herself to the cause of human rights in a way that is hard to conceive. Having received her mother’s blessing, Sharmila left home to continue her protest, in the realms of the public sphere on November 5; this month, her fast will enter its 16th year.

The ‘peace protester’ has now been confined to Room no.1 of the Special Ward, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, in Imphal, and forced fed against her will, using a Nasogastric intubation. She is freed once in a year, for just a day, and occasionally rearrested on the charge of ‘attempt to suicide’ when she yanks the tube out.

Her brave mother, Irom Sakhi, giving strength to her daughter, promised Sharmila, that she would not meet her until AFSPA is repealed from the state. Keeping the promise, Sharmila hasn’t meet her 85-year-old mother for nearly 15 years.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 ?

The draconian AFSPA provides limitless powers to security forces, to use force to arrest anyone without a warrant, shoot at sight at anyone on the mere suspicion that someone has committed or was about to commit a cognisable offence. In addition to this, the act prohibits any legal or judicial proceedings against army personnel, without the sanction of the Central Government. But the government is presently in no rush to repeal the act from the state of Manipur.

Bottomline

Recently, a Delhi Court on October 7, 2015, fixed December 15 & 16, to hear final arguments in a case against the “Iron Lady of Manipur” who had been accused of a suicide bid for her fast-unto-death protest in 2006, at Jantar Mantar and Babloo Loitongbam was examined as the defence witness in the case.

Even as the act has often faced flak from human rights groups for violation of human rights, the government seems to be in no mood to even think about removing the act. The 43-year-old crusader has been released many times, and rearrested on the same charge “attempt to suicide” several other times, however, as it is a democratic protest, she hasn’t been convicted even once in a span 15 years, that she has been fasting.

When would the government then stop playing the game of “release and arrest” ?

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