Fasting Manipuri activist refuses to plead not guilty to suicide attempt charge

Manipur’s Irom Chanu Sharmila on Monday pleaded not guilty before a court here to the charge of “attempting to commit suicide” during a fast-unto-death she undertook at Jantar Mantar in 2006. She told the court that she would not give up her fast until the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was repealed.

Metropolitan Magistrate Akash Jain told her: “Madam, there is an accusation against you that you tried to commit suicide.” To this, Ms. Sharmila responded with an emphatic “No.”

“On April 20, 2012, an order was passed against you charging you under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code [attempting to commit suicide]. Do you plead guilty to the charge,” Mr. Jain asked.

Ms. Sharmila replied: “I don’t want to commit suicide. Mine is only a non-violent struggle to live as a human being.”

Mr. Jain said: “But the law of the land does not permit you to take your life.”

“I love life. I love life. I don’t want to take my life. What I want is justice and peace,” Ms. Sharmila replied. “I am protesting against AFSPA. If AFSPA is repealed I will take food again.”

The Magistrate told the activist that while he respected her sentiments, hers was a political stance, while the courts were concerned with the legal procedure. Ms. Sharmila’s lawyers, from the Human Rights Law Network, clarified to the court that she was pleading “not guilty” to the charge and the court could continue as per the established procedure.

Her lawyers also pointed out to the court that though the maximum punishment for her offence was one year, she had already spent several years in judicial custody. “Her protest should not be seen like any other kind of suicide attempt. She has been fasting and protesting in the most non-violent manner. She must not be asked to appear again and again in court,” counsel said.

The trial in the case will begin from May 22 with the recording of statements of prosecution witnesses.

Ms. Sharmila embarked on a fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar from 8 p.m. on October 4, 2006. She was arrested at 11.30 p.m. on October 6.

On November 2, 2000, Ms. Sharmila heard about the alleged killing of 10 civilians at Malom near Imphal and began her fast, which has now extended for over 12 years. The government has since then been force-feeding her.