by Sonam Mittal
“If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”- Alexander Hamilton
1. Irom Sharmila has been on hunger strike since November 2000, surpassing other fasts undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi or Anna Hazare. M. K. Gandhi undertook 17 fasts in his lifetime, longest one lasting for 21 days. Anna Hazare, who has taken more than 15 fasts, hold a record for 12 days. Irom Sharmila has not eaten a morsel of food for the last 13 years.
2. Irom Sharmila is on hunger strike to protest against and to repeal the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act – AFSPA. This controversial Act, imposed in Manipur, J&K and few other Northeast States gives impunity (exemption from punishment) to the Armed Forces. Many fake killings, kidnappings, rapes & encounters have been reported (up to 1500 cases reported as per some figures). Most of the cases didn’t get approval from the Army as they are covered under the said act while few others are still lodged in the courts and waiting to be heard.
3. Irom Sharmila was arrested by the Government of Manipur in 2000 and was charged with ‘attempting to commit suicide,’ a criminal offense under Indian Law. Labelling her peaceful protest as ‘suicide attempt’ is a serious attempt to move attention away from the core reason of her protest. Her only demand is to repeal the draconian and undemocratic law like AFSPA
4. India, the world’s largest democracy has imposed AFSPA in Manipur since 1980. This Act came into existence during British rule, gives the armed forces a statutory right to kill on mere suspicion. Irom Sharmila began her fast shortly after some members of Assam Rifles shot dead 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop in Malom, Manipur. None of the officers were punished, nor would they ever be.
5. RTI filed by the Save Sharmila Campaign revealed that the National Human Rights Commission never paid any visit to Irom Sharmila or to the victims of AFSPA in the first 12 years of her fast. Their first visit was conducted in October 2013. A failed attempt to believe in ‘Out of sight, Out of mind’ concept, our Government has shown the same insensitivity in dealing with Irom Sharmila’s peaceful protest of 13 years as it has shown to AFSPA victims
6. Irom Sharmila is being detained in a security ward, JLN Hospital in Imphal, Manipur. There is no judicial mandate for enforcing isolation, which India’s National Human Rights Commission has also acknowledged. Each day she spends in custody is a bleak reminder of the status of our country’s human rights records.
7. In Feb 2012, Supreme Court of India, in association with the Ram Lila Maidan case, observed that hunger strikes is ‘historically and legally accepted form of protest’. In a country which preachesthe values of nonviolence to the world, Irom Sharmila is being force-fed a diet of liquids through her nose.
8. Attempting to commit suicide is a bailable offense in India, with a maximum punishment up to one year imprisonment. Irom Sharmila has religiously declined bail, as she believes she has done no offense to seek bail. Every year, after completing a year in judicial custody, she is released only to be re-arrested as she continues her fast.
9. Compared to the fasts conducted in our national capital, Irom Sharmila has been largely ignored by Indian media and Govt. She has, however, received a lot of international attention, further distorting our nation’s crumbling image in human rights records. Manipuri Mothers and Shirin Ibadi (Nobel Peace Prize Winners) have also extended their support towards Irom Sharmila. No major political party has extended their support yet.
10. “I will fast until the AFSPA goes. I have not wasted 12 years of my life to back off. Either my people live with respect or I don’t eat,” – Irom Sharmila, on completing 12 years of her fast.
About the writer-
Sonam Mittal is an environmental campaign working with a leading campaign group in Bangalore. From her school days she has actively been part of social causes in her native city of Bombay.