Addressing the diamond jubilee celebrations of Adimjati Shiksha Ashram in Imphal on Sunday, Mukherjee said Manipur has a special place in the hearts of all Indians for its participation in the struggle to free India from the British rule.
"History has been a witness to the kind of treatment meted out to Manipur by the nation. Last month, we all saw how Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur, was treated. After the kind of injustice meted out to the people over the years, it's difficult to believe that Mr President really meant what he said," rued a visibly upset Rita Tenshubam, an employee at a private company in New Delhi.
Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast since November 2000, protesting against the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in the state of Manipur. She was arrested shortly after she began her hunger strike and charged with attempting to commit suicide - a criminal offence under Indian law.
Last month, Irom Sharmila was released by the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court of Imphal East only to be re-arrested the next day (March 14) and remanded to judicial custody till 26 March. On 4 March, a Delhi court had also charged Irom Sharmila with attempting to commit suicide in October 2006, when she staged a protest in Delhi for two days.
Irom Sharmila has never been brought to trial, but as her alleged offence is punishable by a term of one year only, she has been regularly released upon the completion of such period in judicial custody, only to be re-arrested shortly thereafter as she continues her fast.
Sharmila has pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempting to commit suicide, and has said she is holding a non-violent protest.
"I do not want to commit suicide. Mine is only a non-violent protest. It is my demand to live as a human being," Sharmila reportedly told the Delhi court.
The young working professional also expressed surprise over the fact that the recent suicide by a 21-year-old Manipuri student in Hindu College hostel failed to find a mention in the President's speech.
The Manipuri student committed suicide by strangling himself with a mobile phone charger at his hostel room in Delhi University's Hindu College.
"Although in a suicide note allegedly found from his hostel room the student blamed himself for the death, the incident that occurred inside the premises of such a prestigious college failed to move anyone. Nobody raised any voice, nobody tried to find out why was he so depressed? How do I believe the President was serious when he said the nation has a special place in its heart for Manipur. The country just has given special powers to the Armed forces to act against innocent civilians in Manipur," Tenshubam said.