NEW DELHI: The detention of Irom Sharmila Chanu, an activist from Manipur,
for close to 13 years for her prolonged hunger strike is a continuing
reminder of India‘s intolerance to dissent, Amnesty International India
said on Tuesday.
“Irom Sharmila is a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’, who is being held solely for
her peaceful expression of her beliefs,” said Shashikumar Velath,
programmes director of Amnesty International India. “Authorities must drop
all charges against her, and release her immediately and unconditionally.”
Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast since November 2, 2000,
demanding the lifting of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (
AFSPA). She was arrested by Manipur police shortly after she began her
hunger strike and was also charged with attempting to commit suicide — a
criminal offence under Indian law. In March 2013, a Delhi court also
charged Sharmila with attempting to commit suicide in October 2006, when
she staged a protest in Delhi for two days.
Irom Sharmila has never been convicted of attempting to commit suicide.
However, as the offence is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year
only, she had been regularly released after completing a year in judicial
custody, only to be re-arrested shortly after as she continues her fast.
She is being detained in the security ward of a hospital in Imphal, where
she is force-fed a diet of liquids through her nose. Anyone wishing to meet
her, including her family and friends, have to go through a lengthy process
of obtaining permission from the Manipur government.
Although attempting to commit suicide is a bailable offence in India, Irom
Sharmila has refused to sign the bail bonds, maintaining that she has not
committed any offence, and has instead called for the criminal charges
against her to be dropped. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges of
attempting to commit suicide, and has said she is holding a non-violent
Speaking to Amnesty International India, Irom Sharmila, who says she is
inspired by Mahatma Gandhi‘s philosophy of non-violence, said: “My struggle
is my message. I love my life very much and want to have the freedom to
meet people and struggle for issues close to my heart.”
“Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike is a protest against human rights
violations, and is different from self-starvation as a way to commit
suicide,” said Velath. “India has a long history of activists undertaking
hunger strikes for noble causes. Authorities must consider the validity of
Irom Sharmila’s demands, not demean her protest by charging her with
attempting to commit suicide,” added Velath.
The British Medical Association, in a briefing to the World Medical
Association, has clarified that, “A hunger strike is not equivalent to
suicide. Individuals who embark on hunger strikes aim to achieve goals
important to them but generally hope and intend to survive.” This position
is embodied by the World Medical Association in its Malta Declaration on
Hunger Strikers. In February 2012, the Supreme Court of India observed in
its ruling in the Ram Lila Maidan Incident versus Home Secretary, Union of
India and Others case that a hunger strike is “a form of protest which has