Mumbai, 28 May-2014, Apoorva Rao/DNA: Irom Chanu Sharmila, better known as the Iron Lady from Manipur has recently desired a meeting with the country prime minister Narendra Modi.
Mengoubi or ‘The Fair One’ as the people of Manipur have been calling her is in Delhi with regards to a summons by the Patiala House Court in New Delhi for a pending case on her hunger strike at Jantar Mantar.
The peaceful warrior has been on a hunger strike since November 3, 2000 against the Malom massacre in which the paramilitary force Assam Rifles killed ten civilians at a bus stand after the incident of a bomb blast.
An 18 year-old National Child Bravery Award winner and a 62 year-old woman were among those killed in the shooting. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (1958), that keeps the army unaccountable for these kinds of action is the bone of contention for many Indian human rights activists including Sharmila.
As per the AFSPA, in a region once declared as ‘disturbed’ by the centre, the armed forces have special powers to not only arrest civilians without a warrant but also to shoot to kill on suspicion.
Sharmila’s fast unto death is a protest against this very law which is often dubbed as a ‘draconian’ law.
The Iron Lady who is released and re-arrested every year (as the law allows detention only for 364) has been fasting for the last 12 years and the last morsel of food was from a meal cooked by her mother.
Forced-fed a diet of mixture of liquified carbohydrates and proteins by a nasal thrice a day, Sharmila’s health has deteriorated to the extent that she had even stopped menstruating at the age of 30.
So strong is her determination to see the end of AFSPA and military brutality, she even brushes her teeth with dry cotton in order to avoid accidental intake of water.
The 40 year-old has been awarded several awards including a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission (2010) and the ‘Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize’ of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (2011).
The unbridled freedom that the military enjoys under the AFSPA hasn’t made it effective. Rather it has led to a spike in incidences of extra-judicial torture, killings and even rape.
Manipur which merged with India two years after the Indian independence has over 40 insurgent groups though most of them weilding power less than a petty criminal gang. Instead of bringing peace to the region, there have been more than 10,000 deaths in the last 20 years.
It is not the first time that Sharmila has seeked to engage with talks with the prime minister. She had earlier written and spoken on the phone with the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but no to avail.
Sharmila since a young age used to hold fast every Thursday. The fast she held on Thursday, November 2, 2000 never came to an end. A meeting with the current Indian PM, who is re-thinking on Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, perhaps could pull the plug to her fast and the dreadful AFSPA.