Manipur rights activist Irom Sharmila Tuesday completed 10 years of her hunger strike to protest alleged rights violations by security forces, but still refused to break the fast.
Sharmila, who earned the sobriquet 'Iron Lady of Manipur', launched an indefinite hunger strike Nov 2, 2000 after she was witness to the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home in Malom, a village on the outskirts of capital Imphal, the day before.
Three days into the hunger strike, police arrested her on charges of attempted suicide, sent her to a prison hospital and put her on nasal drip. She is now lodged at an isolated cabin at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital here.
Sharmila is campaigning for the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot on sight and arrest anybody without a warrant.
At 38, she looks frail and emaciated, but the resolve in her eyes and intent to continue with her campaign has become even stronger.
“Given her steely resolve, Sharmila decided to continue with her fast-unto-death mission until and unless the draconian legislation (AFSPA) was repealed by the government and she made her intentions pretty clear as she completed 10 years of hunger strike,” Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of Human Rights Alert, a frontline rights group in Manipur, told IANS.
Several rights groups Tuesday held sit-in demonstrations in Imphal to express their solidarity with Sharmila.
“She is Manipur's crusader for peace and rights violations by security forces,” said Anita Devi, a women rights activist.
Two years ago, a court set her free March 7, but she was arrested the very next day after she sat on a hunger strike outside a club in her hometown and sent back to jail once again. This has been the saga of her resolve - year after year the court sets her free and Sharmila once again resumes her campaign.
Local rights leaders also described the Act as 'draconian' and want it to be repealed.
"The AFSPA was enacted by parliament with a view to quell the Naga insurgency in 1958. But after that there were so many insurgencies in the northeast and despite the Act in force in all the insurgency-hit states, militancy is still thriving. In other words, the AFSPA had miserably failed," Babloo Loitongbam said.