Human rights activist Irom Sharmila, jailed since 2000 for resorting to a hunger strike against alleged rights violations by the security forces in Manipur, was once again arrested by police on charges of attempted suicide. The activist continued her refusal to eat a single morsel of food.
Sharmila, who earned the sobriquet Iron Lady of Manipur and is now in her 10th year of judicial custody, was arrested Wednesday night and was sent to a prison hospital and put on a nasal drip.
“She was released from judicial custody Monday after her term expired, but was re-arrested as she continued with her fast-unto-death agitation,” a senior police official told IANS Thursday.
Sharmila launched an indefinite hunger strike November 2, 2000 after she witnessed the killing of 10 people by army soldiers at a bus stop near her home in Malom, a village on the outskirts of capital Imphal.
Sharmila is campaigning for the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that provides unlimited powers to security forces to shoot at sight and arrest anybody without a warrant.
“I am not going to break my fast and am ready to die for a cause that I believe is just and right,” Sharmila said.
Giving support to Sharmila are several women’s rights groups holding a relay hunger strike outside the J.N. Hospital in Imphal where she was lodged.
“We are here to express our solidarity with Sharmila,” said Anu Devi, a supporter.
Given her steely resolve, rights campaigners in the region are sure that Sharmila would continue with her fast-unto-death mission until the controversial anti-terror law is repealed.
“Sharmila is an icon and her crusade against the AFSPA will continue. It is no joke to continue fasting for nearly a decade,” Rakesh Mehoubam, a leading rights campaigner told IANS.
Sharmila, in her late 30s, looks frail and emaciated, but the resolve in her eyes and intent to continue with her campaign has become even stronger.
Last year, a Manipur court had set her free March 7, but she was arrested the very next day after she went on a hunger strike outside a local club in her hometown. She was sent back to jail.
This has been her saga during the past nine years. Year after year the court sets her free, but Sharmila once again resumes her campaign.
“I am fighting for justice,” Sharmila sounding confident, said in a feeble voice.
Rights activists say that AFSPA has become a tool of state abuse.
“The law grants the military wide powers to arrest without warrant, shoot-to-kill and destroy property in so-called disturbed areas. It also protects military personnel responsible for serious crimes from prosecution, creating a pervasive culture of impunity,” Human Rights Watch said in a report.
“The AFSPA was enacted by parliament to quell the Naga insurgency in 1958. But after that there have been so many insurgencies in the northeast. Despite the act, militancy is still thriving.