Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady’s fast continues

On the eve of the International Women’s Day, Irom Sharmila, or the ‘Iron lady of Manipur’, who has been on a fast unto death since November 2000, was released from judicial custody March 7 evening. The “Iron Lady” undertook her fast unto death against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) after troops of the Assam Rifles gunned down 10 civilians at Malom near Imphal airport on November 2, 2000. She is undeterred and has pledged to carry on her agitation against the black law which gives troops sweeping powers to kill even on suspicion and still have immunity from prosecution. She has been surviving on forced nasal feeding at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal East for the past eight years.

“While the whole world will be celebrating International Women’s Day, no one will know that in a land called Kangleipak, where the land is very fertile and there are so many resources and the people are very friendly, and the wind blows very sweetly, the women of the land are facing so much oppression,” a lady journalist in Imphal quoted Sharmila’s words.

“I am determined to continue my fast. I am convinced that people are with me and with their support our dream will come true,” a news report quoted Sharmila as addressing a large crowd that had gathered to greet her.

It may mentioned here that last year, too, she was freed earlier at the end of the jail term, but was put behind bars again after she refused to call off the hunger strike. Sharmila has been booked under Section 309 IPC for attempts to commit suicide. The offence is one that can be bailed, but she has been in jail after refusing to apply for it. The maximum jail term for the offence is one year.Every year she is released after the expiry of her term and rearrested soon after, sometimes within 24 hours; that’s has been the pattern for the past eight years.

It is worth mentioning that while Sharmila is waging this unequal battle against the Indian state, many of her dear and near ones have stood solidly behind her. Irom Sakhi,the 75 year old mother of Sharmila has not seen her daughter since she blessed her on the momentous day 8 years ago when she decided to undertake her fast. Irom Sakhi, with tears in her eyes told a correspondent :It is just possible that my getting emotional on seeing her may weaken her resolve. And I do not want that my daughter lose in this battle, which is for the betterment of humanity”.

Armed Forces Special Powers Acts

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) is considered to be one of the more draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has passed in its 45 years of Parliamentary history. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to “maintain the public order”.
The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of “aiding civil power.” It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India. They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the “seven sisters”. The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel. This legislation is sought to be justified by the Government of India, on the plea that it is required to stop the North East states from seceeding from the Indian Union.

There is no doubt that a large number of armed opposition groups operate in Manipur and elsewhere in the North East and that they have been responsible for gross human rights abuses. Yet, unlawful law enforcement only begets contempt for the rule of law and contributes to a vicious cycle of violence. The unusual form of demonstrations by some members of the Meira Paibis who stripped themselves in front of the Kangla Fort on 15 July 2004 was an act of desperation to protest against the systematic denial of access to justice.

The strength of any country claiming itself as “democratic” lies in upholding the supremacy of the judiciary and primacy of the rule of law. It requires putting in place effective criminal-law provisions to deter the commission of offences against the innocents and punishment for breaches of such provisions while exercising executive powers; and not in providing the arbitrary powers to the law enforcement personnel to be law unto themselves. The AFSPA violates basic tenets of criminal justice system in any civilized society. First, it provides special powers which tantamount to awarding heavier penalty to the suspects than convicted persons would get under normal court, a clear violation of the cardinal principle of criminal justice system.

A reckless approach towards human life and liberty in the last 45 years under the AFSPA has been counter-productive and caused alienation of the people in the North East. The review [and if possible repeal} of the AFSPA is overdue for many reasons cited above.

6 thoughts on “Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady’s fast continues

  1. I’m glad that you have written on this – AFSPA is bad but I don’t see anyone esp. ‘Indians’ protesting against it because it does not affect them…As soon as it is used in other part of the countries, we’ll have people demonstrating and writing about it…

  2. Nimmy yes it is important to remember those strugglesAbt the second comment by ‘Amen’ I do not know.May be it is abt Indyeah’s post on Amen and the comments there.Indyeah suddenly stopped publishing my comments in that post.

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