How Irom Sharmila is fighting a lonely battle against AFSPA

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She might look frail and weak, but she is determined to end the terror of draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). Meet Manipur's Iron Lady, the 40-year-old peace-activist Irom Sharmila Chanu, who is on a hunger strike for last 12 years.

She is demanding the repeal of AFSPA.

Currently, she is in the national capital, as a court on Monday framed charges against Sharmila for allegedly attempting to commit suicide during her fast until death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on October 5, 2006.

However, she has refused to plead guilty to suicide attempt charge.

AFSPA: Irom and her lonely battle

She has been charged with Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of IPC for fasting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

In her defence, Irom said, "I am not committing suicide. This is my way of protest. I am protesting by non-violent means."

"In Manipur, due to AFSPA, violence has become the means of administration. The Indian government must repeal it," added the frail looking woman, who is adamant to continue with her fast till AFSPA is not repealed.

"If we keep fighting, the law will be repealed. Our voices will be heard," said Irom, after reaching New Delhi on Sunday evening.

Irom is the lone crusader for the cause of Manipur and its plight, where militancy, corruption and lack of governance have created a complex situation, which is difficult to describe in few words.

And defining the tragedy of Manipur and its people is Irom. The lone woman, who is on fast for last 12 years to express her protest against AFSPA.

"Because of AFSPA, all young men and women in Manipur (the entire northeast for that matter) are prospective terrorists. Moreover, special laws like AFPSA makes a mockery of living in a 'free country'," said Arman Ali, an activist from Guwahati.

The shroud of "disturbed area" tag engulfs the entire northeast India, almost since the Indian republic got its independence.

On mere suspicion, people are arrested and killed at point blank by the law enforcing agencies in the Northeast region.

"It is true that Northeast is hit by militancy but tell me about one place in India where crime and killings don't take place. You can't. But I can tell you that nowhere else in India, common citizens have to prove themselves to be law-abiding citizens of the nation every day," added Ali.

Sharmila completed 12 years of her hunger fast against the controversial Act on November 5, 2012. Sharmila has been fasting since Nov 5, 2000, a couple of days after Assam Rifles personnel gunned down 10 civilians including a National Child Bravery Award winner near a bus stand at Malom village along the Imphal-Aizawl highway.

"Sharmila completed the 12th year of her fast, and now she is on the 13th year of her stir. She will continue till the oppressive act is repealed. The state government as well as the 60 legislators are watching her struggle but are not taking steps to scrap the act. We are not happy with their attitude towards her struggle," Irom Singhajit, Sharmila's elder brother said.

The sight of Sharmila, a petite woman wrapped in a shawl with a pipe inserted in her nose can easily move anyone to tears.

But it seems Indian authority has decided to maintain its silence and waiting for Sharmila to die the death of a martyr?

No authority, no politician, no bureaucrat had ever shown their solidarity to Sharmila. But the fragile and weak woman is determined enough to fight her battle alone by refusing to take food and water for more than 500 weeks now.

In fact, she has created a world record for being "the world's longest hunger striker", a feat which is nothing to celebrate but rather we should mourn about it. "I am not going to break my fast and am ready to die for a cause that I believe is just and right," Sharmila said.

"I am fighting for justice," Sharmila sounding confident, said in a feeble voice.

"...Why is the government afraid of Army? Why is it appeasing the Army? Why can't it take a decision for the good of the people," she said.

The law under which Sharmila is detained allows the police to detain her for a year, after which she is released. As she refuses to break her world-record fast, she is again arrested and then produced in court every 15 days for the extension of her custody.

She is now in judicial custody and is being fed through her nose.

Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an "attempt to commit suicide", which is unlawful under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, and was later transferred to judicial custody.

Her health deteriorated rapidly and the police then forcibly had to use nasogastric intubation in order to keep her alive while under arrest.

Since then, Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year under IPC section 309, a person who "attempts to commit suicide" is punishable "with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year (or with fine, or with both)". Within the confines of her hospital bed, Sharmila writes fervently, with the hope that one day authority would listen to her cries.

Apart from being a political crusader and civil rights activist, Sharmila is a poet too. She has published her poetry collection "Fragrance of Peace" in 2010, which contains twelve of her poems. The poems were originally written in her native language Meiteilon.

The poems of Sharmila consist of a unique blend of passion, protest and hope.She has been the recipient of several awards including the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2007 and the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize in 2010.

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