The “Iron Lady of Manipur”, Irom Sharmila on Tuesday ended her 16 year long hunger strike to protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). She broke the fast with a sip of water and honey at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS), where she had been lodged for several years now.
Ms. Sharmila has been on fast unto death since November, 2000 and was being force fed through nasal feeding tube. She was arrested by the Manipur Government the same year, on charges of attempting to commit suicide. Subsequently, the Chief Judicial Magistrate had, on February 29, 2016, directed to free her, observing that the charges against her were not proved. She was however rearrested on the same charges, as she chose to continue the fast.
She broke the fast around two and half hours after she was granted bail by a Local Court on a PR bond of Rs. 10,000, at the end of a three hour long hearing. She has been asked by Judge L. Tonsing, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal West, to reappear on August 23 under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Addressing the media, Ms. Sharmila announced that she now wants to join politics and become the Chief Minister. She said that she will use everything in her power to create a positive society and the “foremost will be removal of this draconian (AFSPA) law.” She however made it clear that she would not join any political party even if approached and would contest next year’s Manipur assembly elections from Khurai Assembly constituency, as an independent candidate.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has urged India to take steps to repeal the ‘draconian’ law. It further urged all Indian authorities to drop all charges against Ms. Sharmila.
“Irom Sharmila’s decision to break her hunger strike gives India another chance to start a dialogue and recognize how the AFSPA has alienated Manipur for over 35 years,” a statement by Amnesty stated. It said that AFSPA in Manipur had provided impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, torture and other ill-treatment, and excessive use of force.
“Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike over the last 16 years has been a testament to her passion for human rights, and her belief that a draconian law like the AFSPA has no place in any society. The government arrested her, confined her to a hospital room and force fed her for 16 years, seemingly to break her will. There was zero dialogue. A peaceful protest was criminalized,” Abhirr VP, Senior Campaigner with Amnesty International India was quoted as saying.
AFSPA is in effect in Indian-ruled part of Kashmir and in a few North-Eastern States facing separatist insurgencies. The Act grants extraordinary powers to the Indian Armed Forces in the “disturbed areas”, including the powers to detain persons, use lethal force, and enter and search premises without warrant. It comes to the rescue of soldiers, as prosecution against them cannot be initiated without permission from the Federal Government.