Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Irom Sharmila to break 16-year fast, contest Manipur polls

NB: This is very welcome news. Irom's heroic campaign against the AFSPA deserves the widest support- DS

Manipur activist Irom Sharmila will break her 16-year fast on August 9, she told media persons at Imphal Court on Tuesday. She will also contest the upcoming Manipur elections. Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for 16 years, demanding that the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be repealed. AFSPA was enacted by the Jawaharlal Nehru government in 1958 to empower the Indian Army during counter-insurgency operations in the North East.

Recently, the Supreme Court said that the Indian Army and paramilitary personnel cannot use “excessive and retaliatory force” in Manipur and other regions where the Act is enforced. The apex court was hearing a petition seeking an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team or the Central Bureau of Investigation into extrajudicial killings in the state, PTI reported. “Use of excessive force and retaliatory force must be inquired into,” the bench had said. 

Earlier this year, a Delhi court had acquitted Irom Sharmila in a case of attempted suicide, registered against her in 2006 when she was undertaking a fast until death at the Jantar Mantar, Delhi.

Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila to end fast after 16 years, fight elections
Human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila on Tuesday said she was ending her fast-unto-death protest against the controversial Armed Forces Specials Powers Act (Afspa), and would instead contest elections in Manipur. Speaking to media outside the Imphal court, the 43-year-old announced her decision almost 16 years after she began her fast. “I will break my fast as the government has failed to give any positive response... I will fight elections to resolve the issues,” she told ANI.

Known as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’, Sharmila began her non-violent protest in November 2000 after 10 people were killed by troops of the Assam Rifles near a bus stop at Malom, in the outskirt of Imphal. She was arrested under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code on charges of attempt to commit suicide, and held at a prison hospital where the government force-fed her through the nose for years. 

The Afspa 1958 covers large parts of northeastern India and Kashmir, and gives security forces sweeping powers to search and shoot on sight. Seen by critics as a cover for human rights abuses, Sharmila was one of the strongest voices opposing the act. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court strongly rebuked the army, saying it cannot use “excessive or retaliatory force” even in troubled areas. With regards to Manipur, it said the situation was never a “war-like” threat to national security that warranted the act.

The apex court further directed a thorough probe into the alleged fake encounter killings there.
In December 2014, the Centre decriminalised “attempt to suicide” by deleting the relevant section, effectively dismissing the case against Sharmila. Then, this year in March, the Delhi court acquitted the Manipuri in a ‘attempt to suicide’ case filed against her in 2006 for holding a fast-unto-death protest at Jantar Mantar.

When she appeared in court for the matter in 2013, Sharmila expressed her desire “to live a normal life” and asked why the government was “scared of giving her fundamental rights of a human being”.

“I am just a simple woman who wants to follow the non-violent principle of Gandhiji, the father of the nation. Just treat us also like him and do not discriminate. As a leadership, don’t be biased against a human being,” she said at the time.