Last week one my friend told me he was in a campaign to gather support for Sharmila Irom's hunger strike in Delhi. He also gave a few links.
I didn't have any idea who she was and what the issue was. Going through some of the links, I learnt that she has been on a fast unto death at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Next day I noticed the name on the newspaper, it said she was arrested by Delhi Police and was taken to AIIMS.
Last few days I have been trying to figure out who's Sharmila Irom, why was she on a fast. With the help of the web I figured out she started her hunger strike in November 2000 (you read it right) against Armed Forces Special Powers Act and she has been on a fast unto death since then. For almost SIX years! She is now being force-fed through a pipe in her nose on the orders of the state administration.
"How is she alive now then" was one (natural) response I got from a friend when I shared what I learnt. The only conclusion I could reach was that it is not only food that keeps one going.
Another response was a more concerned one. Concerned about me, not the lady. That I'm in Assam, I better stay away from such delicate issues.. Life is precious.
Yes, my life is precious. What about many other lives that hang on this particular act? And if this is so much delicate an issue, what is this act all about?
Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA) grants special powers to the Indian armed forces to arrest, detain, interrogate or even kill any person on mere suspicion with impunity. Manipur (where Sharmila hails from) and her neighbouring states of north-east India have been reeling under this act for almost half a century.
Following widespread protests against the law, the Centre set up the expert panel headed by former Justice Jeevan Reddy to review the legislation in 2004. The panel last year submitted its report to the Centre, which is yet to act on its recommendations. Apparently the commission had recommended the law should be repealed ("The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed," it notes in its recommendations. "The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars"..)
“My fast is on behalf of the people of Manipur. This is not a personal battle – this is symbolic. It is a symbol of truth, love and peace”, says Irom Sharmila Charu.
More on her and about the act can be found at http://manipurfreedom.org (the site is being updated regularly with news on her and on the law against which people in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East have been agitating for several years).