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A decade of Sharmila’s fast, sent to custody
Published on 5 Nov. 2009 11:34 PM 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, stepped into the 10th year of her judicial custody, still refusing to eat even a morsel of food. 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are sure that Sharmila would continue with her fast-unto-death mission until the controversial anti-terror law is repealed.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. At 39, 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 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, and Sharmila once again resumes her campaign. “I am fighting for justice,” Sharmila said in voice that is feeble but sounding confident. 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. Said Babloo Loitongbam, a rights leader here: “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. In other words, the AFSPA had miserably failed.”

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