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Speculations over Sharmila ending fast
Published on 1 Mar. 2009 12:40 AM IST
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Human rights activist Irom Sharmila, jailed since 2000 for resorting to a hunger strike against alleged rights violations by security forces in Manipur, faces a literal trial of endurance when the term of her judicial custody expires March 7. Will she decide to end the fast or continue with her crusade against the violation of rights by security forces in the name of countering insurgency and face another jail term? 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. 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. 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. Given her steely resolve, rights campaigners in the region are sure Sharmila would continue with her fast-unto-death mission even after March 7. “It is unlikely that Sharmila would decide to walk out and end her fast. She would surely continue with her fast like she did in the past,” said T. Singh, a rights campaigner. At 38, she looks frail and emaciated, but the resolve in her eyes and intent to continue with her campaign has become even stronger. Last year, a court set her free March 7, but she was arrested the very next day after she sat on a hunger strike outside a local club in her hometown and sent back to jail once again. This has been the saga of her resolve during the past nine years - year after year the court sets her free and Sharmila once again resumes her campaign. Manipur was in turmoil in 2004 after 35-year-old woman Manorama was allegedly raped and killed by security forces while in custody. Authorities said the woman, an alleged militant, was shot dead while she tried to flee from custody. The custodial death triggered a wave of violence and protests across the state - one agitator died after setting himself on fire and a group of women drew international attention to the cause by demonstrating naked outside a military camp. Human Rights Watch, a leading international rights group in a report from New York, ‘Getting Away With Murder: 50 years of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act’, describes how the AFSPA has become a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination. “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,” the report said. 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,” said Babloo Loitongbam, a rights leader here.

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