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Actor file Dossier : Human Rights in India

Peace woman Irome Sharmila continues fast-unto-death

The file contains details of a peace actor, Irome Sharmila who has been fasting unto-death demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA) from the state of Manipur, North-east India.

Keywords: India

Irom Sharmila is a peace woman from the troubled North Eastern State Manipur in India. She has not eaten for over six years now. For this, she has been locked up in jail by the government under very dubious charges and is being forcibly nose fed. Since November 2000, Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (AFSPA). AFSPA is a law that can come into force in any part of India declared as “disturbed”. The Act allows anyone of any rank in the army or a paramilitary force under its operational command to shoot, arrest or search without warrant; and to kill on suspicion alone. Furthermore, there is little scope for judicial remedy. The whole of the State of Manipur has continuously been under this law since 1980 (with minor exceptions in recent times).

On November 2, 2000, Thursday, a convoy of Assam Rifles was bombed by insurgents near Malom in Manipur. Immediately after the incident the army went on retaliation by attacking the innocent civilians around the area. 10 civilians were shot dead and many injured. This provoked Sharmila to begin her historic fight against the draconian law and the violence of the State against the people. “There was no means to stop further violations by the armed forces,” she says. She began her epic fast.

Within days of her fast, she was arrested on charges of ‘attempted suicide’ and put in jail. She refused bail; she refused to break her fast. For five years now, she has been in custody, being forcibly nose-fed. Time and again, the courts have - rightly - released her. But she resumes her fast and is invariably re-arrested each time.

In the five years that she hasn’t eaten, Sharmila’s body has begun to get damaged severely. She lives with the nagging pain of a tube thrust into her nose. She is 37 but has become feeble and looks older. What’s more, for five years, Sharmila has not seen her ageing mother. In her mother’s own words, “I am weak-hearted. If I see her, I will cry. I do not want to erode her determination, so I have resolved not to meet Sharmila till she reaches her goal.”

Sharmila shifted her crusade to New Delhi mid October. She reached the Capital just after an Imphal court released her from judicial custody. Accompanied by two human rights activists, Sharmila offered floral tributes at Rajghat before resuming her fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. After a few days in Jantar Mantar, she is again arrested and is in the hospital in Delhi. There are only speculations as to how long she will be kept in Delhi or what might happen now or if the Delhi Police will send her back to Manipur right away? There is nothing for sure at present. As days pass by, people supporting her in Delhi are decreasing since all have their other commitments and preoccupations.

(Modified from an article by Kavita)