Irom Sharmila Chanu was re-arrested on March 8, a day after she was released from the security ward of JN Hospital in Imphal for continuing her fast unto death in protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Irom Sharmila was arrested at the Meira Shang near Aka Tren playground where she was protesting.
The 'Iron Lady' was taken into custody for attempting to commit suicide. Sharmila has been in judicial custody since March 6, 2007 as she failed to furnish necessary bail bonds. Under 309 IPC, the punishment is one-year imprisonment. She was released on completion after the one-year term.
Before her re-arrest, Sharmila reaffirmed her decision to continue fasting until the AFSPA was totally repealed. While the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights described the re-arrest as another blow to justice, Sharmila requested the government to kill her or let her die in peace if it did not intend to repeal the Act.
On October 6, 2006, Sharmila shifted her protest from the high-security wall built around her in Imphal JN Hospital to New Delhi's Jantar Mantar. However, she was immediately arrested. When Sharmila was summoned to appear in the court of Kamini Lau, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) at New Delhi's Patiala House Court Complex, Sharmila honestly told the court in her feeble voice, "It is my only instrument. I have no other means."
When she was asked why she wanted to end her life by fasting, she said, "It is my duty in response to society's situation. I think this is God's will."
Sharmila's counsel said though Sharmila was charged under Section 309 IPC accusing her of intending to commit suicide, she has never had any intent to commit suicide. "Mere fasting," Sharmila's counsel said, "cannot be construed as a criminal offence under Section 309. She values life. She does not want to die."
Sharmila's counsel also said that Section 309 is not applicable to Sharmila as her effort was not to take her own life but to protest against the "draconian act".
They said that the detention and arrest of Sharmila was illegal. They also told the court that Sharmila couldn't bear the injustice perpetrated on the people of Manipur and the North East by the security forces, who operate illegally and ruthlessly under the cover of the AFSPA.
Sharmila's counsels also added: "AFSPA was suitable for the British. Democracy, decency and the AFSPA cannot go together."
Sharmila has been on fasts since November 2, 2000 after the Malom massacre where 10 people were reportedly killed by the Assam Rifles. The Army disallowed a magisterial enquiry into the incident.
The Army's high-handedness prompted Sharmila to resort to fasting for the repeal of AFSPA. The AFSPA empowers the representative of the Central government, the Governor, to subsume the powers of the state government with the power to declare "undefined" disturbed areas. It also empowers the non-commissioned officers of the Armed forces to arrest anyone without warrant, to destroy any structure that may be hiding absconders without any verification, to conduct search and seize without warrant and to shoot even to the causing of death.
The Malom massacre represents one of the many cases of similar events that have become routine in Manipur and North-East. However, due to AFSPA, the bloodshed and killings remained untouched and untraced.
AFSPA was modelled on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, which was promulgated by the British government on August 15, 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement. Today, Manipur, where Sharmila belongs, is tagged with "disturbed area", which actually validated the State to allow AFSPA to prevail.
In the original version of the AFSPA of 1958, only the state governments had the power to declare an area as disturbed. However, the 1972 amendments of the AFSPA took away the power from the state government and handed it over to the governor.
However today, even if the state government declares certain areas as disturbed, it is the Centre and not the state government that takes the decision. This has also necessitated Sharmila to shift her protest to New Delhi, which is home to the key decision-makers. Manipur has been declared a "disturbed area" since September 8, 1980. Since then the order has been re-issued after every six months. The big question today is: Is AFSPA an exceptional and temporary measure or a permanent one?
In 2004 in Manipur, in the wake of intense agitation that was launched by several civil society groups following the death of Manorama Devi in the custody of the Assam Rifles, and the indefinite fast undertaken by Sharmila, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited the state and reviewed the situation with state officials.
In the same year in November, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured that the Centre would consider their demand sympathetically. The Centre then set up a five-member committee under the chairmanship of Justice BP Jeevan Reddy, former judge of the Supreme Court.
The BP Jeevan Reddy committee submitted its recommendations on June 6, 2005. However, the government failed to act on the recommendations. The 147-page report recommends that "the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed".
The committee met several individuals, organisations, parties, institutions and NGOs, which resulted in the report stating that "the Act for whatever reasons has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness".
Sharmila, winner of the Gwangju prize for Human Rights, 2007, is resolute when she said, "I have not met my mother since I returned from Delhi. But her blessings are always with me. I will continue to shun food until the act is removed, be it in judicial custody or elsewhere."
When the state fails to question itself of the relevance and validity of the "repressive" and "suppressive" Act, Sharmila continues to find her movement more valid and relevant in the face of the existing Act that has no respect for human rights and dignity.
Irom Sharmila's determination for an AFSPA-free Manipur grows stronger with every passing moment. She yearns for peace and she strongly believes that "real peace comes only through justice".
Despite the long struggle, Irom Sharmila, however, is resilient and said, "I am optimistic."
That is the mind behind her steely determination and courage. When AFSPA resulted in violence and shedding innocent blood, Sharmila is certain that it can be overcome through non-violence. That has been her instrument and language since she resolved to fast until the draconian law is scrapped.