Civil rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been on a fast for the past 16 years, demanding withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act [AFSPA], 1958, has announced that she will end her stir on August 9 and contest assembly polls in Manipur next year.
AFSPA, first introduced to fight the Naga rebellion in the 1950s, has been a major issue in J&K, Manipur as well as other parts of the northeast, mainly because of its alleged misuse by security forces. “I have decided to change my strategy against AFSPA,“ she said in Imphal. “I will contest next year's assembly election. My primary agenda will be the same: scrapping of the oppressive act. I want to see my wish fulfilled while I'm still alive.“ Known as the `Iron Lady of Manipur', Sharmila (44) said she would contest the election as an independent candidate. “I would like to get married and begin life anew,“ she told the media while being produced in a court here.
Sharmila said neither her fast was enough to end AFSPA nor did she receive support from politicians and other activists. “My 16 years of struggle did not produce results.That is why I want to fight my battle politically,“ she added.
As news of her decision to end her epic battle against AFSPA spread, politicians and civil rights activists came out in her support.
Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of Human Rights Alert (HRA), said Sharmila's decision would strengthen her mission. “Her decision to end her fast has come as a surprise. We will continue to support her if she stands firm against AFSPA and contests the polls for its withdrawal,“ he added.
Congress MLA N Biren Singh said, “Fighting politically for any cause is a good decision. I appreciate it.“
Sharmila began her fast on November 5, 2000, two days after Assam Rifles personnel shot dead 10 civilians, including a national child bravery award winner, at Malom village in Imphal West district. In a bid to end her agitation, police charged her with violating Section 309 of the IPC (attempt to commit suicide) which carries one year's imprisonment. Every year, she is released at the end of her term and then taken into custody immediately .
Every time she was sent to prison, Sharmila claimed she was not trying to commit suicide. She is now being kept in the security ward of the state run Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences where she is force-fed through the nose. The hospital is located close to her home at Kongpal Kongkham Leikai in Imphal.
In October 2006, Sharmila had shifted her protest to New Delhi to draw the Centre's attention. Delhi police had registered a case against her under Section 309, which is still pending in a metropolitan court there.