Since November 2000, Irom Sharmila has been on an uncertain fast, refusing to eat or drink after soldiers from the Assam Rifles shot dead 10 civilians. She was charged with ‘attempt to suicide’, repeatedly arrested, detained and force-fed through nasal tubes. However, she has continued on the path of protest even when the state has shown no signs of surrendering. Her fast was a shame on us. The fact that she chose to end her fast now is just the last straw. It is our failure. It means, we have been unable to listen to our own citizens. It also means that we failed to address their anguish and forced them to choose the path that she never intended.
For years, she was on a hunger strike. Her illusion gave her reply that the peaceful protest was no longer going to work. If she has to bring the change, she should adopt politics. Her peaceful and painful act of protest and self-denial would push the state towards diminishing the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Manipur. Sharmila, who was 28 at the time of Malom Massacre, began to fast in protest. Her primary demand to the Indian government has been the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). She began her fast in Malom on 5 November, and vowed not to eat, drink, comb her hair or look in a mirror until AFSPA was repealed.
Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an “attempt to commit suicide”, which was unlawful under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at that time, and was later transferred to judicial custody. Her health deteriorated rapidly, and nasogastric intubation was forced on her from 21 November in order to keep her alive while under arrest. Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year since her hunger strike began.
By 2004, Sharmila had become an “icon of public resistance”. Following her procedural release on 2nd October, 2006, Irom went to Raj Ghat, New Delhi. Later that evening, Sharmila headed towards Jantar Mantar for a protest demonstration where she was joined by students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens. Thirty women protested naked in support of Sharmila in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters. They held a banner saying “Indian Army Rape us” and all of them were imprisoned for three months.
On 6th October, she was re-arrested by the Delhi police for attempting suicide and was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she wrote letters to the Prime Minister, the President, and the Home Minister. At this time, she met and won the support of Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, a human rights activist, who promised to take up Sharmila’s cause at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2011, she invited Anna Hazare to visit Manipur. Hazare sent two representatives to meet her but he did not go.
In October 2011, All India Trinamool Congress announced their support for Sharmila and called on party Chief Mamata Banerjee to help repeal the AFSPA. The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) (CPI ML) also stated its support for her and for repeal of AFSPA, calling for nationwide agitation. In November, at the end of the eleventh year of her fast, Sharmila again called on then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to repeal the law. On 3rd November, 100 women formed a human chain in Ambari to show support for Sharmila, while other civil society groups staged a 24-hour fast in a show of solidarity. She has only met her mother once since the start of the fast as seeing her mother’s anguish may break her resolve. On March 28, 2016, she was released from judicial custody as a local court in Imphal rejected a charge against her. Her battle between court, jail and protest continued till today but now it has taken a new twist. Finally, she ended her fast for the cause and to contest Manipur Assembly elections.
The issue she raised all these years is quick to be forgotten by the media and the people of our country by and large with very few exceptions. I hope, she will fulfil her goals through the electoral process and improves the lives of Manipuri people.
We wish her all the best for her goals ahead and great future in politics.
(Inputs from Agencies)
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