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Irom Sharmila and the AFSPA

R Keerthana
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What’s at stake?

On November 5, 2012, Irom Sharmila completed 12 long years of hunger strike against the the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The civil activist from Manipur has not been taking food or water since 2000. She has been force fed and kept alive by the Government, in its custody, through nasogastric intubation. It is a medical process involving the insertion plastic tube through the nose, into thestomach, which supplies nutritional substances.

What is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), passed in 1958, grants special powers to the armed forces in North Eastern States includingArunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur,Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. It was later extended to Jammu and Kashmir.

The AFSPA gives the armed forces the powers to shoot people acting against law or order, arrest offenders or suspects without a warrant, enter and search any premises to recover arms or explosive substances. Army officers have legal immunity for such actions.

Which incident drove Sharmila to go on a marathon fast?

Sharmila began her fast unto death after the Malom Massacre 2000. Assam Rifles shot killed ten civilians, who were waiting at a bus stop in Malom,Manipur.  The dead included mostly women and students. An18-year-old Child Bravery Award winner was also killed.

Who’s Who?

Irom Sharmila Chanu, (40), is a political activist and poet. She is known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur." She began her hunger strike when she was 27. She has been writing to leaders seeking support against the Act. She has also been penning poems in solitary confinement.

How has the government been reacting?

Since 2000, Sharmila has been arrested under section 309 of IPC which punishes attempted suicide by one-year imprisonment. She is released every year to be arrested again.

Despite several public protests and recommendations from international forums, the Government has not repealed or amended the act. Instead, it supports it on the ground that the act is needed to enable security forces to tackle militancy.In 2004, the central government set up a five-member committee – The Jeevan Reddy Commission - to review the Act. The committee, in 2005, recommended repeal oftheAct. However, the government failed to take any concrete action on the recommendations.

Why does the Act seem anti-people?

Innocent people could suffer due to unnecessary restraint and detention. According to an NDTV report , more and more encounter deaths are being reported from states where the AFSPA is applicable. The National Human Rights Commission has opened 79 cases of encounter or custodial deaths in Assam. The investigation into the Malom massacre has not yet been completed even after 10 years and no arrest has been made so far.


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