Rights activist Irom Sharmila became a “free woman” on Wednesday after a court in Manipur capital Imphal quashed a charge of attempt to suicide against her.
Sharmila, 44, had been periodically arrested under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code since she began fasting in November 2000 to protest the killing of 10 villagers by the Assam Rifles at Malom near Imphal.
This became a ritual until she decided to end her 16-year fast in July and take the political route in her fight against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) of 1958.
“I am a free woman now. I don’t have any legal issue to think about while I prepare to launch a new political party on October 10,” Sharmila said after the Imphal West district chief judicial magistrate’s court spiked the case against her.
The court had on August 9 granted her bail in connection with this case, five months after a trial court in Delhi acquitted her of the same charge during a fast-unto-death in Delhi in 2006.
Sharmila said she received vital inputs from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on how to go about ending 15 years of Congress rule in Manipur. “After all these years of fasting, I have realised one needs political power for repealing Afspa.”
She added that she has been meeting individuals and organisations representing different communities of Manipur to seek support for her new innings as a political crusader.
Sharmila had to face protests after she ended her fast, with many of her activist friends and organisations turning their backs on her. But they gradually relented and acknowledged her “sacrifice”.
Another woman, 32-year-old Arambam Rebina, tried to take her place, but relatives dissuaded her from fasting.