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Sharmila ‘Iron’ Lady

Irom Sharmila was released two days back and again she was arrested on Friday. She was very happy with the ruling of Judge Sharma and it was proved that she did not try to commit suicide. However, she said that she will continue her fast till the repeal of AFSPA, and for that she had to go to jail again. As a result of long years of fasting, her health has become fragile and the government is not taking any chances. The government spends about Rs. 50,000 a month in nose feeding her. She began her fast protest soon after the massacre of 10 persons including a woman by the personnel of 8 Assam Rifles at Mallom near Imphal on November 2, 2000. It has been nearly 14 years and India still hasn’t listened to Irom Sharmila. She has held on to her belief steadfastly; she has remained unshaken. It is not easy to commit to an indefinite fast; it is even more difficult to remain committed to it for so long. The body begins to oppose it almost immediately. Anyways, she preferred fasting. However, Manipur is never like Jantar Mantar; there was nothing newsworthy in the incident for the media to cover. So, Irom Sharmila’s plea went unnoticed. The fast that she began on November 4, 2000 is continuing till date. The Manipur government did become insecure. Instead of giving her any assurance, they slapped charges of attempt to suicide against her. The State did not feed her orange juice; it was forced through her nose through a rubber tube.

I understand her stand and those Army Personnel should be punished but AFSPA should not be removed. AFSPA is needed in the North-East region. And if removed from Manipur then other states will also press the same demands and there are chances of heavy killings and violence in the region. Irom Sharmila was on Satyagraha and nation learned this form of protest from Mahatma Gandhi. Then what is wrong, why government is not listening to her? Is her protest is democratic or not? Is a law like AFSPA compatible with a humanistic civilisation or not? A person cannot continue her fast for this long unless she has a strong conviction on what she is enduring this for. And I’m sure those who criticise her, does not have half the will power and selfless conviction that this brave lady has. State government, her supporters and family members were disappointed, though not surprised, when she said that she will continue her fast, shortly after her release.

On 2 November, 2000, in Malom, the victims included Leisangbam Ibetombi, a 62-year old woman, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner. Sharmila, who was 28 at the time, began to fast in protest of the killing, taking neither food nor water. 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 the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and was later transferred to judicial custody. Her health deteriorated rapidly, and nasogastric intubation was forced on her in order to keep her alive while under arrest.

Irom Sharmila has been released and re-arrested every year since her hunger strike began under IPC section 309. The law declares that a person who “attempts to commit suicide … shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year. Long term militarisation of cities and towns within India’s borders not only creates terrorists out of ordinary people but also corrupts the military that are meant to fight our many enemies on and beyond our borders. We need to win the hearts and minds of the people in entire north-east by increasing connectivity, launching aggressive development that provides education and jobs there. Fasting for so long requires tremendous will and conviction in what she is fighting for. Many among us may disagree with what she is fighting for, for nationalistic (or pseudo-nationalistic) reasons. However, I cannot admire her for her perseverance. She is really ‘Iron’ Sharmila, considering the fact that the AFSPA had been removed in seven assembly constituencies already.

It will be a wise decision if the act was removed from all over Manipur. If it is not possible, then the clause – which is a bugbear- that states that for reporting any human rights violation one has to get permission from the union government, may be struck down. It is high time to scrap the draconian law AFSPA. There is no logic in claiming to be the world’s largest democracy when parts of India suffer from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by armed forces in the name of AFSPA, the so called law to maintain peace. Her primary demand to the Indian government is the complete repeal of the AFSPA which has been blamed for violence in Manipur and other parts of northeast India. Ms. Sharmila, who has set a world record of having been on fast since November 4, 2000, was released on the orders of A. Guneswor Sharma, district and sessions court judge who ruled on Tuesday that she did not attempt to commit suicide and that the prosecution had failed to prove otherwise. All along she has been maintaining that she never tried to commit suicide but used fasting which was a weapon for her struggle to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 14 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazine Beyond The News (international). She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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