GUWAHATI: Manipur’s “Iron Lady” Irom Sharmila has lamented that the Centre had misunderstood her hunger strike as an attempt to commit suicide even as she accused the Army of misusing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
“I sat on a hunger-strike to demand the repeal of the AFSPA. But the Central government seemed to have misunderstood my movement as a suicide attempt.
“Army soldiers mostly come from outside the North East and they have a different view and sentiment for our people, who look different because of their facial features. We have seen them using AFSPA as a tool to discriminate our people,” Sharmila told journalists in Imphal before leaving for Delhi.
She was scheduled to appear before the Metropolitan Magistrate, Patiala Court on Thursday, in connection with a case filed against her at the Parliament Street police station in 2006 under IPC Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) for holding a hunger-strike at Jantar Mantar.
Apart from Sharmila, several rights groups and the North East Students’ Organisation have for long been demanding the withdrawal of the Act. Recently, former Manipur Chief Minister Radhabinod Koijam had said that the AFSPA was as dangerous as an atom bomb.
Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for over 13 years now, which is the longest by anybody so far.
The 42-year-old human rights activist had spent long years in an Imphal hospital, which had been converted into a jail for her.
The hunger strike began on November 2, 2000, at Malom in Imphal valley, after 10 civilians, who were waiting at a bus stop, were shot dead allegedly by Assam Rifles personnel. The victims included a sexagenarian woman and a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.
Sharmila, then 28, began her fast within hours of the incident. She was arrested by the police three days later and charged with “attempt to commit suicide”. Subsequently, she was remanded in judicial custody. As her health deteriorated rapidly while under arrest, nasogastric intubation was forcefully administered to keep her alive.
She had been released every year and then re-arrested a day later under Section 309, since she would resume her fast immediately after release.