Simon Denyer/The Washington Post – Irom Sharmila arrives for a fortnightly court appearance, flanked by two police officers, in the northeastern Indian city of Imphal on Feb. 7, 2013. Sharmila began a hunger strike in 2000 to protest against a controversial law that grants the Indian army virtual impunity from prosecution.
For 12 years, a Manipuri woman, Irom Sharmila, has been on a hunger strike against the armed forces act. Having been convicted in court of intent to take her own life, she is under police guard in a hospital and force-fed through her nose.
Last week, Sharmila, 40, emerged from the hospital for a biweekly appearance in court, and, in an interview outside the courtroom, while being flanked by two female police officers, Sharmila said she was not optimistic that the government would relent any time soon.
The formation of committees is a tactic to deflect public anger, she said in halting English, and the people of Manipur are not given the respect accorded to other Indians.
“They treat us like stepchildren,” she said before police whisked her away.
Across town, 37-year-old Neena Ningombam has cared for her two children alone since her husband was taken away by police in November 2008. A few hours later his body, with a hand grenade planted next to it, was shown on television, supposedly that of a rebel killed after attacking the police.
In one sense, Ningombam is lucky. Witnesses saw her husband being arrested, and they have not been intimidated into silence. A local magistrate who investigated the case found that her husband had never been involved in a militant group and that he was killed in what is known here as a “fake encounter.”
Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Alert, a local rights group that has documented the alleged rapes and extrajudicial executions, said members of the security forces who kill militants are rewarded with cash, medals and promotions.
“An incentive structure has created vested interests in the army and police just to kill people on the flimsiest charges,” he said, “while the judicial process has completely failed.”
With Loitongbam’s help, the widows of Manipur are fighting back. Responding to a petitionthey have filed, the Supreme Court appointed a respected three-
person team last month to look into the alleged extrajudicial executions. Yet another committee of inquiry, it could nevertheless put more pressure on the government to roll back what residents describe as a cloak of impunity shrouding events in Manipur.
Like the other widows of Manipur, Ningombam continues her legal battle to clear her husband’s name.
“How many more deaths, how many more naked protests, how many more hunger strikes, how many more committees, how many more editorials and articles and broadcasts before AFSPA goes?” he asked.