Sharmila Irom & the Struggle Against AFSPA

Photo: northeasttodayThe following article written by Shruti K, a student activist from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore and involved in the Repeal AFSPA campaign (which includes the New Socialist Alternative CWI-India) in solidarity with Sharmila Irom’s 12 year long fast.

As the momentum towards building a nationwide campaign to pressure the Indian government to repeal AFSPA continues, such as petition campaigns which has been submitted to the President of India, Indian ruling class shows no sign of relenting. On the 10th December Human Rights Day, the government prevented the yearly symbolic solidarity dharna (sitting) in support of Sharmila Irom at Jantar Mantar (well known protest point in Delhi).

But with the changed mood in 2011 and with the support slowly starting to trickle in, with a successful nationwide campaign, the efforts are on to build a movement throughout India against AFSPA to ensure that 2012 will be the last year of Sharmila’s fast. The following article reflects this mood for change from a young supporter of the campaign.


As a few privileged among us, who have the luxury to sit in our cosy homes, sipping on a cup of tea and just complaining about how bad the traffic is or just how bad the weather is… cribbing about the little things we don’t have, but how many of us today are really willing to go beyond this mundane day to day problems?

There in a remote place called Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, there is a women who is now an epitome of courage and true pride for her home town, in her quest to fight for basic rights.

How many of us even know who Sharmila Irom is? How many of us know what Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is and what effect it is having in the north eastern states? Yet we manage to know just enough about the new movies and the latest gossip in college.. Don’t you think our lives really need a new makeover? A real reason to fight for? And most importantly a real reason to live for?

Sharmila Irom Chanu, born on 14th March 1972, who is an political activist and also a well known Manipuri poet started fasting on 4th November, 2000. Recently in November 2011, this courageous women completed more than 11 years of her fasting, a feat unmatched by anyone or any struggle for that matter in the entire world. She has been force fed through her nose and also has been charged for attempt to suicide and has ever since been in custody. She has not seen the proper light of day ever since.

How it all began…

It all started when ten civilians were allegedly shot and killed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state, while waiting at a bus stop. The incident later came to be known as the “Malom Massacre”. The next day’s local newspapers carried graphic pictures of the dead bodies, including one 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.

As her brother Irom Singhajit Singh recalled, “The killings took place on 2nd November 2000. It was a Thursday. Sharmila used to fast on Thursday’s since she was a child. That day she was fasting too. She has just continued with her fast” On Friday the third of November she had her last supper of pastries and sweets then touched her mother’s feet and asked permission to fulfil her bounden duty. Her primary demand to the Indian government was the repeal of the AFSPA, which allowed soldiers to indefinitely detain any citizen on suspicion of being a rebel. The act has been blamed by opposition and human rights groups for permitting torture, forced disappearances, and extra judicial executions.

Sharmila’s ordeal

Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an “attempt to commit suicide”, which is unlawful under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code and was later transferred to judicial custody. Her health deteriorated rapidly, and the police then forcibly had to use nasogastric intubation in order to keep her alive while under arrest. Since then, Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year since under IPC section 309, a person who “attempts to commit suicide” is punishable “with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year [or with fine, or with both]”.

But even after having endured so much, Sharmila is more than determined to carry on the fast until AFSPA is repealed. On one side it is awe inspiring to see the iron will of this one women fighting against all odds, but on the other hand it really boils your blood as to how the Indian government manages to simply over look a problem as big as this.

Brutal Law that is AFSPA

To understand the cause Sharmila espouses we need to understand what exactly AFSPA is? AFSPA has committed more harm to the land of Manipur which is not only shocking, but also surprising that the Indian government is tolerating and supporting it. Since Manipur comes under the tag of “disturbed area” the Indian government has used this to allow AFSPA to be there as long as the tag is not removed. AFSPA not only functions in Manipur but also the north-eastern states of India and Jammu & Kashmir.

AFSPA equips the security forces with unrestricted powers including the power to arrest under mere suspicion, enter and vandalize anybody’s house without any warrant as well as the power to shoot anybody without having any proof or evidence to support their cause or killing. The law has been made so strong that it cannot be stopped or questioned by anyone. Be it the Manorama case (2004) where they simply took her under case of suspicion and she was later found raped and shot. She was not the only one.

And the Struggle against AFSPA goes on….

In this age, where Sharmila could chose to stay indoors and continue with her daily life as normal individual, she has instead took a stand and started doing something which most could never imagine, by fighting for the basic rights and trying to bring about a change. She might never succeed but what makes her stand apart is her sheer determination and the zeal to get justice for her region.

Many people have been the victims of the AFSPA, many people killed, many people shot at gunpoint for no apparent reason, many homes vandalized, many mothers and daughters taken away, raped and killed and been found in the farms the next day. Many of us would cry about it, read about it and probably forget, but this woman has stood up for what she believed in.. She believed in change or at least to bring about a change and that’s what sets her apart from the crowd.

Today I write not just to stir emotions and only to be forgotten later, I write so that a little bit of her courage grows in us, a little bit of determination to bring about a change and tell the world who Sharmila Irom really is!

Today because of Anna Hazare fast, the Lokpal Bill (Ombudsman Bill) has gained popularity because of the huge media coverage or the huge number of supporters it received, but my question is why does Sharmila’ s fast or repealing AFSPA not receiving the same response by the same media? Because if there is one brutal law today that really needs to be focussed upon and a law which simply has no place in a civilized society, it is AFSPA!

Shruti K