The iron lady of Manipur, Ms Irom
Sharmila Chanu of Manipur is one of the civil rights activists in
India better known for her relentless campaign for the the
repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Irom Sharmila has been on has been on hunger strike since November
2, 2000 demanding that the Indian government repeal the Armed
Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA). She has refused food and
water for more than 500 weeks, making her the longest hunger
striker in the world.
She caught the imagination of the nation on October 2, 2006, when
she held hunger strike at the historic Jantar Mantar, New Delhi
and was joined by the students, human rights activists and other
concerned citizens. She was arrested by the Delhi police for
Since then support to her is growing steadfastly. On June 25,
2011, a candle light solidarity prayer was held at the Rajghat New
Delhi where approximately 200 people participated from all walks
It is part of this growing support that Irom Sharmila Solidarity
Campaign is being launched in India and under it various
programmes and action are being organized through out the country.
The programmes organized under the banner 'Irom Sharmila
Solidarity Campaign. have already begun from Oct 2, ( Birthday of
Mahatma Gandhi) across states of India and would culminate on Dec
10, 2011. As a part of this campaign a Srinagar to Imphal journey
and national signature campaign is also being planned.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) continues to be the most
potent repressive tool of the Indian state that empowers even a
non commissioned officer of the armed forces to kill on mere
suspicion and provide legal immunity from prosecution, thereby
causing untold misery and agony among the peoples of the affected
The imposition of AFSPA is synonymous to heavy militarization in
the states where it is promulgated leading to gross civil and
political rights violations including enforced disappearances,
extra-judicial execution, torture, inhuman and degrading
treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women,
arbitrary arrest and detention.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a colonial legacy used against
Mahatma Gandhi, was promulgated initially in the Naga areas of
Assam (later divided between 4 states) and later in Mizoram,
initially in parts of Manipur and later in all of Manipur.
The Ordinance after a brief discussion in the Parliament was
endorsed and got the status of Act on August 18, 1958, despite
stiff resistance from various quarters who challenged it as a
martial and draconian law.
Since then it has been in force in one part or the other of the
states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram,
Nagaland, Tripura and Jammu and Kashmir (since 1991).
Even though continuation of the 'disturbed area' status under the
AFSPA in many part of the country is illegal in view of the
violation of the mandatory six monthly periodic review directed by
Supreme Court in its 1997 Judgement, there is no respite from this
This law is more draconian than its predecessor ordinance used by
the British to suppress the Quit India Movement. In the pretext of
controlling insurgency, this Act has only intensified the
insurgency in the region and legitimised thousands of gross human
rights violations like rape, torture, murder and “disappearances”
of innocent people in the North East and J&K.
The democratic movements in the Northeast states of India and the
Jammu and Kashmir have consistently demanded the repeal of the Act
and demilitarisation for decades but their repeated plea has
fallen on the deaf ears and and nothing has so far been done to
check the state sponsored injustices being perpetrated.
It is in this context Irom Sharmila struggle against Armed Forces
Special Powers Act, has become synonymous with the cause. It
amazing to see her conviction and courage to take on the might of
the Indian state.
Although Sharmila is leading the Manipur people’s movement but her
popularity over the years has catapulted her to the national
stage. It's her sheer grit and determination that has made her a
national icon. She occupies the same space as that Anna Hazare has
on corruption, Medha Patkar on Narmada Bacho and similar civil
It therefore important for all the freedom loving people who care
for human rights and human values in this country to render
support to 'Irom Sharmila Solidarity Campaign and make it a
It wont be improper to mention that Irom Sharmila is one of the
faces better known to us, but she is not the only one, there are
many more like her who have taken up this cause and deserve
Here one has to acknowledge the names like; Mukta Srivastava , GG
Parikh, Sukla Sen, Daniel Mazgoankar, Asad, Shimanshu, Suhas
Kolhekar, Simpreet Singh, Jatin Desai, Guddi S.L who have put up a
brave front and has taken up this cause.
One can only wish good luck and best wishes to those who are
campaigning for the repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers
Act in India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a
journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com