Irom Sharmila Chanu is a commoner but she is equally a darling of her people. She was imprisoned on the grounds that she may commit suicide. Now after thirteen years of time spent in the concrete forest, a court has finally ordered her to be set free. She has promised to continue her fight for justice. Perhaps one day, an epic will be composed in honor of this ordinary woman.
It is people like Sharmila (also Binayak Sen, Baba Amte, Medha Patkar and others) who give us hope that India will, one-day, be ready to give the gift of dignity to people who have no belongings, no land, no water, no rights whatsoever. We have been fortunate enough to meet Sen and Amte and what inspires us so much is how gentle they are, and how firm is their spirit and their stead-fast commitment to (non-violent) action.
To give credit where it is due, the Press has helped to highlight the plight of Sharmila and her fellow travelers. In these times when majority coalitions are firming up all across the country, it is important that the Press continues to play its role as the guardian of minorities (can be Hindu…the wrong type…see the inquisition going on in Telengana, against “thieves and looters” from Andhra), to be able to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Also, now that the Indian left is on its death-bed and the Press is being corrupted by corporate money, we the people will need to stay extra vigilant.
Manipur court ruling directing the release of Prisoner of Conscience
Irom Sharmila because there were no grounds for charging her with
attempted suicide is a legal and moral victory for the activist and her
13 year-long hunger strike, Amnesty International India said on Tuesday.
The Manipur East Sessions Court ruled that authorities had
failed to establish that Sharmila had intended to commit suicide and
stated that her protest was a ‘political demand through a lawful means’.
“This welcome but long overdue judgement recognizes that
Sharmila’s hunger strike is a powerful protest for human rights and a
peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression,” said Shailesh
Rai, programmes director, Amnesty International India.
“Sharmila should never have been arrested in the first place. All other
charges against her of attempted suicide must be dropped and she must be
immediately released. Authorities must instead pay attention to the
issues this remarkable activist is raising,” added Rai.
Sharmila has been on a prolonged hunger strike for over 13 years,
demanding the repeal of theArmed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).
She was arrested by the Manipur police shortly after she began her
hunger strike on November 2, 2000 and charged with attempting to commit
suicide – a criminal offence under Indian law. In March 2013, a Delhi
court also charged Sharmila with attempting to commit suicide in October
2006, when she staged a protest in Delhi for two days.
Sharmila is being detained in the security ward of a hospital in Imphal,
Manipur, where she is force-fed a diet of liquids through her nose. She
has never been convicted for attempting to commit suicide. However, as
the offence is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year, she has
been regularly released after completing a year in judicial custody,
only to be re-arrested shortly after as she continues her fast.
Last year, over 18,000 people from across India supported an Amnesty
International India campaign calling for the unconditional release of
Sharmila. India’s National Human Rights Commission also acknowledged
that she was a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ who was being detained solely
for the peaceful expression of her beliefs and called for the removal of
restrictions imposed on access to her.
Speaking to Amnesty
International India in September 2013, Sharmila, inspired by Mahatma
Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, said: “My struggle is my message. I
love my life very much and want to have the freedom to meet people and
struggle for issues close to my heart.”
In February 2012, the
Supreme Court of India observed in its ruling in the Ram Lila Maidan
Incident versus Home Secretary, Union of India and Others case that a
hunger strike is “a form of protest which has been accepted, both
historically and legally in our constitutional jurisprudence.”
British Medical Association, in a briefing to the World Medical
Association, has clarified that, “[a] hunger strike is not equivalent to
suicide. Individuals who embark on hunger strikes aim to achieve goals
important to them but generally hope and intend to survive.” This
position is embodied by the World Medical Association in its Malta
Declaration on Hunger Strikers.
The AFSPA, which has been in
force in parts of North-eastern India since 1958, and a virtually
identical law in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990, provides
sweeping powers to soldiers, including the power to shoot to kill in
certain situations and to arrest people without warrants. The Act also
provides virtual immunity from prosecution for security personnel, by
mandating prior permission from the central government, which is almost
The AFSPA falls short of international human
rights standards, including provisions of treaties to which India is a
state party; and is inconsistent with India’s international legal
obligations to respect and protect the right to life, liberty and
security of person, to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and
to an effective remedy.