On November 2, Irom Sharmila will complete 10 years of her fast demanding repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, in Manipur.
The protest started on November 2, 2000. Upset at an “encounter” at Mallom here, in which 10 innocent persons including a middle-aged woman were mowed down by 8 Assam Rifles personnel, Ms. Sharmila began her fast. Two days later, she was arrested on the charge of trying to commit suicide.
The law allows authorities to detain her for one year in one-go. At the end of every year she is released. However, instead of going home, she continues fast, and the police to re-arrest her within 48 hours. In fact, a room in the J.N. Hospital here was converted into a sub-jail for lodging her.
Ms. Sharmila was honoured by South Korea with the country's highest human rights award. Recently she was given the Rabindranath Tagore award, carrying Rs. 51 lakh in cash and a citation. Despite appeals by many, she has refused to break her fast.
The Manipur government withdrew the AFSPA from seven Assembly segments on August 12, 2004. However, this gesture failed to satisfy Ms. Sharmila. She wants says she will continue her fast until the Act is repealed completely in all areas. But the government feels that if the Act is repealed, rebels may feel emboldened.
Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who is in charge of the Home portfolio, has already said the government may be constrained to reimpose the AFSPA in these Assembly segments as the rebels are taking undue advantage of its gesture. Besides, the Army wants the Act retained to take on foreign-trained militants.
To mark the completion of 10 years of her fast, the Just Peace Foundation (JPF) is planning functions to honour the “Iron Lady.” However, the government is keeping a watchful eye what with Congress president Sonia Gandhi scheduled to visit Manipur in the first week of November. The police, fearing a law and order problem, have already clamped prohibitory orders in trouble-prone areas.
The JPF is planning a demonstration on October 24. This will be followed by paintings on Ms. Sharmila's campaign and seminars. There will be a music programme on October 5.