Year 2000: Irom Sharmila Chanu started her hunger strike in Imphal, Manipur when she was 28 years old. It is started just after ‘Malom Massacre’ where soldiers of Assam Rifles opened fire on persons who were standing on a bus stop and around 10 people were killed in this firing including a 12 year old bravery award winner and a 60 year old woman. Sharmila could not bear this incident that was done so ruthlessly and for which people knew that nothing will happen due to special powers granted to soldiers under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and therefore Sharmila decided to resist it and went on fast as her protest.
AFSPA is known as Armed Forces Special Powers Act that was imposed in Manipur vide parliament act AFSPA, 1958 under which soldiers get extra ordinary powers that include even shoot to kill on mere suspicion, arrest without warrant and others. This act also provides impunity to soldiers as no criminal complaint, inquiry and prosecution can be done against soldiers without pre sanction from central government. .
After few days, Police booked her under ‘Attempt to suicide’ that is punishable under Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 309.
Irom Sharmila was arrested but continued her fast. With the suppression of administration and support of people, her commitment became stronger and she continued with her fast.
Manipur administration put her under arrest and converted a ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, Imphal East in to ‘Security Ward’ as a prison, where she got admitted and started force feeding through nasal tube.
Irom Sharmila got released by session court of Manipur many times as the maximum punishment for ‘Attempt to suicide’ is one year. Whenever she got released for a day through court, she continued her hunger strike and Police arrest her on the next day after lodging fresh charges under same section of IPC.
Year 2004: Many incidents of human rights violations were happening in Manipur and all such violations would possible due to (mis)utilizing powers in AFSPA. A lady named Manorama was picked from her home by Assam Rifles in night allegedly due to some inquiry regarding her link with an insurgent group PLA. Manorama was picked in night and in the morning, her body was found in a field with bullet shots in her vagina. It was alleged by people that she was raped and then murdered by Assam Rifles. People came on streets and massive protest erupted throughout Manipur.
Meiira Paibi, (Torch Bearers) did naked protest in front of historical Kangla Fort that was in use of Army. They hold banner written ‘Indian Army Rape Us’. This protest has made a sensation and has spread across countries to highlight what was happened in Manipur and sentiments and insecurity of people due to human rights violations of soldiers.
Year 2005: Central Government formed Jeevan Reddy Commssion to look in the AFSPA issue. Commission submitted the report to government but it was never made public. Report was however leaked and it is found that the commission recommended for Repeal of AFSPA.
Year 2006: In one such release from Manipur, Irom Sharmila directly came to Delhi and first went to Rajghat to offer her tribute to Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. After this, she went to Jantar Mantar to participate in hunger strike for her demand of Repeal AFSPA.
Delhi Police also lodged the case under section 309 IPC and admitted her in hospital under security.
She allowed to go to Manipur as she again faced charges there also and was arrested again.
Hearing in Delhi Court was started after few years.
Many national/international human rights organisations and activists were started raising voice against AFSPA and in support of Irom Sharmila. Many other cases happened during these time and it only strengthen the demand for which she was on fast.
Year 2011: As many human rights organizations were already raising voice on this issue, a group of youths started a dedicated campaign named Save Sharmila Campaign / Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (both name used by campaign) with the objective to support her cause and to highlight her struggle.
SSSC knew very well that calling for Repeal AFSPA may be seen as ‘Anti-National’ and ‘Anti-Army’ while they would require to initiate awareness and platforms to talk about the issue on moderate ways so that even a common person become ready to listen the discussions. SSSC put its objective to make people aware about the issue and kept its demand very moderate that included ‘Demand of All member parliamentary delegation to meet Irom Sharmila, Demand with NHRC to visit Manipur and meet Sharmila and listen her demand and to initiate a dialogue by Govt of India with Sharmila.’
SSSC took the issue of Sharmila to make appeal on ‘humanitarian’ ground that appealed people/ common mass. With this strategy, SSSC formed a network and made people aware about the issue on the ground that even on the name of least humanity, Government must initiate dialogue with Sharmila regardless of her demand.
With the time, SSSC organized hundreds of events among public, students, common public and at the time when people and even media were very less informed about such an struggle and issue, SSSC tried to aware people and to shake their minds to think about this.
Later, when even political parties also started talking and repealing AFSPA and media also started putting issues on its publications, an awareness among people also came, SSSC made its demand directly to Repeal AFSPA and organised numerous activities of sit-in protest, public demonstration, candle vigils, human chains, RTIs, protest letters, Appeals with government and NHRC, Panel discussions in institutions, Conventions, Nationwide signature campaign and a 4500 km journey from Sringar to Imphal. Through this journey, SSSC organized events and public march, discussions in more than 10 states and this was attacked by right wing when it reached Delhi University. A nationwide signature campaign of SSSC was taken by people with all passion and recorded more than 60,000 support signatures from all over India during its one month campaign.
These activities along with other voices of various others human rights organisations together formed a phase of awareness where people who were unaware about this struggle of Irom sharmila started talking and discussing about her and AFSPA.
SSSC continued with its struggle and even organised public marches before parliamentary elections in 2014 and appealed political parties to include demand of Repeal AFSPA.
A RTI by Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign revealed that NHRC has not conducted any visit of Manipur during the year 2000 to 2011 to meet Irom Sharmila or to meet victims of human rights violations.
SSSC jointly organized various events in protection of human rights and raised issue of AFSPA in J&K and North East
SSSC closely worked with other organizations, campaigns and movements who supported it and collaborated with it. SSSC along with others jointly organized many events to highlight danger of human rights violations. Joint events were organized with JNUSU, SIO, Bandhua Mukti Morcha, APCR, HRA, JPF, CRSJS, Asha Parivar, NAPM, Voice against 377, Bhagat Singh se Dosti Manch, PCPT, NSI, J&K RTI, J&K Ittehad, AISA, Save Democracy Repeal AFSPA and many others.
Year 2014: An infamous Norbhaya case happened in national capital, Delhi and thousands of people came on street. Government formed a committee ‘Justice Verma Committee’ to provide recommendation on protection of women from sexual harassments. Justice Verma Committee in their report put a point on AFSPA and stated that even cases of sexual harassments against women by security personals in disturbed areas that is under AFSPA should come under purview of prosecution in local court and benefit of AFSPA must not be granted there.
Government did not accept.
As the case in New Delhi also was registered against Sharmila, and Sharmila ppeared before court few times in Delhi, Delhi court in its final decision set her free from charges of attempt to suicide.
In another case filed in Supreme Court by EEVFAM in 2012 where it was alleged that at least 1528 extra judicial killings were done in Manipur, Supreme Court picked six cases where details were available and provided it to Justice Hegde Committee for investigation. Justice Hegde filed report that all of the 6 cases were of fake killings. This case was important as it was alleged in the case that these extra judicial killings were done by security personals under the veil of AFSPA and long sustained impunity.
8 July: , In an interim decision in the case of EEVFAM, Supreme Court took stand and talked long duration presence of army in civil areas as failure of democracy. Supreme Court also sought detailed investigation on other cases. Court observed many other points in its historical decision of 85 page order. It was seen as approach of court in line with human rights objectives. SSSC termed it as partial victory of people of Manipur.
26 July: Irom Sharmila , during a hearing in Imphal court announced that she will leave her fast on coming 9th August and enter in normal life. She also announced that she may contest elections as independent candidate.
What after this: Road Ahead:
Decision of Irom sharmila seems right as many organisations and activists including us were also appealing with her to break her fast. She put her life on risk and dedicated her complete 16 years for people of Manipur while the government has only adopted a single policy ‘Policy of Ignorance’. Government did not work seriously on this issue and neither even tried to talk with irom Sharmila, while she had already become an icon of non violent struggle and of world’s longest hunger strike.
Through entering in normal life government will be forced to remove charges against her and she will become free to move like any common citizen and to strengthen her movement.
As she also announced that she may contest election, it would be completely her choice and if happens, then will be another phase of her struggle to take part directly in policy making and democratic process of elections and to influence the government through her support and logical discussions. She has good support of people in Manipur as well as of people across India and Globe. She has already become a global figure in human rights and if count collectively, she have lakhs of supporters alone in India, that is higher than vote counts of any MP contestant and that is why just her support base just through Manipuri votes doesn’t matter in her struggle. Now she belongs to world. She is moving ahead with a legacy behind that will always be in history books of human rights.
I convey her all the best on behalf of Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign and all fellow organizations, campaigns, movements and activists who extended their support to her in this new phase of her life.
Meanwhile, SSSC will continue its struggle peacefully and democratically till Repeal of AFSPA from North East and J&K.
Ravi Nitesh, Convener- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign for Repeal AFSPA