Irom Chanu Sharmila
Irom Chanu Sharmila.

Irom Chanu Sharmila, a human rights activist from Manipur, Wednesday completed 11 years of her fast-unto-death against the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1985. The 39-year-old activist launched the fast on Nov. 2, 2000, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the AFSPA. 

Sharmila, better known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur," was particularly moved by the Malom massacre in which the Assam Rifles allegedly killed 10 civilians who were waiting at a bus stop. That alleged incident convinced her of the need to repeal the special Act and marked the start of her current fast. Since she started her fast, the state police arrested her several times under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (attempted suicide). She is currently in judicial custody at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Imphal, the capital of Manipur. The state force feeds her twice a day (a cocktail of vitamins and nutrients) through her nose (nasogastric intubations).

Will the govt ever heed to her demands, or will she lose her life fighting for the withdrawal of the AFSPA? 

What is AFSPA

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act was passed on Nov. 11, 1958, by the Parliament of India to suppress insurgency in various parts of the country. The Act was first imposed in Manipur and Assam before being extended to other parts of North East India.

Why is Sharmila Demanding the Repeal of AFSPA?

The "Iron Lady" is demanding the repeal of the Act because of provisions and powers that it confers on the Armed Forces; powers that are commonly regarded as inhuman and allegedly used by the Armed Forces to commit various crimes with impunity. According to the Act, the Armed Forces have the right to kill in proclaimed disturbed areas, where AFSPA is imposed.

As per the provisions of the Act (and specifically under Section 4(a) of AFSPA), the Armed Forces have the authority to shoot at anyone, even based on mere suspicion. This section violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which grants citizens the right to life.

In addition, Section 4(c) empowers the Armed Forces to search and arrest anyone who has committed, is suspected of having committed or of being about to commit, a cognisable offense and use any amount of force necessary to effect the arrest. This too is in direct violation of the Indian Constitution - Article 22 and the citizen's right to "protection against arrest and detention."

Section 6 provides for absolute immunities for members of the Armed Forces; as a result, alleged cases of rape, molestation, murder and other atrocities in "disturbed areas" cannot be fully investigated or dealt with unless approved by the Central Government. Furthermore, AFSPA is a violation of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and similar international charters.

Specifically, AFSPA violates the UDHR on the following rights - Free and Equal Dignity and Rights, Non-Discrimination, Life, Liberty, Security of Person, No Torture, Equality Before the Law, Effective Remedy, No Arbitrary Arrest and Property.

A Profile of Irom Chanu Sharmila

Name: Irom Chanu Sharmila ("Iron Lady Of Manipur")

DOB: March 14, 1972

Birthplace: Kongpal, Imphal, Manipur, India

Designation: Civil rights activist

Agitation style: Non-violent

Inception: Nov. 2, 2000

Cause: The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958)

Demand: Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958)

Acclamation and recognitions:

-       Nominated to Nobel Peace Prize by the North East Network in 2005

-       Recipient of "Gwangju Prize for Human Rights" in 2007

-       "Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize" in 2010

-       "Sarva Gunah Sampannah Award for Peace and Harmony" in 2010

-       "Adivasi Ratna Award" in 2011

Interest: Poetry. 

Suggested Material:

-       "Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur" by Deepti Priya Mehrotra and published by Penguin Books India.

-       A short documentary, "My Body My Weapon", by Kavita Joshi, released in 2007.

-       A mono-play titled "Le Mashale" ("Take the torch") by Pune-based theatre artiste Ojas S. V.


-       Save Sharmila Campaign, jointly launched by network of various civil societies in India.

-       Just Peace Foundation, formed to promote the cause of Irom Chanu Sharmila.