Civil society groups express solidarity with Irom Sharmila, demand repeal of AFSPA

By Abdul Gani,

Guwahati: Several civil rights organizations and civilians have condemned the re-arrest of ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ Irom Sharmila by the Manipur police on Friday, January 23. Amnesty International India has also condemned the re-arrest of 23 January.

The police arrested Irom Sharmila on the charge of attempting to commit suicide; a day after a Manipur court rejected an identical charge and ordered her release. She was arrested immediately after Sharmila resumed her fast.

Irom Sharmila (file photo)

“This re-arrest makes a mockery of the Indian criminal justice process. In the last five months Irom Sharmila has been released and re-arrested twice in what has now become an absurd ritual,” said Shemeer Babu of Amnesty International India.

On August 19 in 2014, another Manipur court had ordered Irom Sharmila to be released, stating that her hunger strike was a ‘political demand through a lawful means’. But she was again re-arrested three days later on an attempted suicide charge under section 309 IPC.

Sharmila has been on hunger strike for last 14 years and her demand is the repeal of draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA), a law in operation in the Northeast India and Jammu and Kashmir for more than five decades giving sweeping power to the armed forces including power to use lethal force.

“This is an extraordinary situation where a peaceful protestor is being denied her constitutional right to freedom of expression. A hunger strike is not attempted suicide, and it is baffling why authorities repeatedly bring the same charge against Irom Sharmila that courts have thrown out,” said Shemeer Babu.

Demanding the repeal of the law, Sharmila has been on fast since November, 2000 after a massacre at Malom that killed nine civilians in a fake encounter. She has been repeatedly arrested every year on charges of attempted suicide under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that prescribes one-year imprisonment.

The impact of AFSPA on women and girls have been especially devastating ranging from sexual violence, displacement and loss of support bases, enforced disappearances, extra judicial killings of family members, lack of all forms of human security and constant sense of fear and dread.

WinG India, a network of women human rights defenders, also voiced for the Iron Lady. “We strongly support her democratic way of protesting against AFSPA. Considering last year’s Parliament’s decision during winter session to decriminalise attempt to suicide, there is no legal ground to arrest Sharmila,” said Anjuman Ara Begum of WinG India.

Several other international human rights organizations have been raising voice for Sharmila and her cause. “We stand by other international human rights organisations and appeal the authorities not to arrest her and to respect her demands by repealing AFSPA,” Begum said.

Guwahati based senior journalist Nava Thakuria said that AFSPA should be repealed immediately from the region or it should be implemented across the country.

“There is no logic of continuing with an act which is almost 50 years old. And if AFSPA is so useful for counter-insurgency or other military operations, why the government does not implement it all over the country? At any cost it is not acceptable,” Thakuria told

He also termed Sharmila as ‘Martyr’ for sacrificing her life for the cause of the region and its people. “Sharmila has already sacrificed her life for the sake of its people. The government should respect such sacrifice and do the needful immediately,” Thakuria added.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court of India observed in its ruling in the Ram Lila Maidan Incident case that a hunger strike is “a form of protest which has been accepted, both historically and legally in our constitutional jurisprudence”.

“This release and re-arrest actually proves that Indian state don’t care to undermine the supremacy of Indian judiciary when it comes to AFSPA and Irom Sharmila. Attempt to commit suicide has been decriminalized,” Abdul Kalam Azad, young activist and student of Tata Institute of Social Science, told TCN.

Meanwhile, an UN body on the elimination of crime against women – CEDAW – suggests for removal of controversial Armed Forces (Special Power) Act from Northeast states. The UN report which was presented in Geneva last year said that sexual violence on women by armed forces should be brought under ordinary criminal law and enable prosecution of all pending cases.

A caricature by Guwahati based cartoonist Nituparna Rajbonshi showing the effects of the AFSPA.
A caricature by Guwahati based cartoonist Nituparna Rajbonshi showing the effects of the AFSPA.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women known as CEDAW also came up with General recommendation 30 in a bid to address the problems of the country.

“The AFSPA should be repealed so that sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces could be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law and enable prosecution of all pending cases,” the CEDAW report said.

It also urged the government to review the continuation of AFSPA in accordance with Justice Verma Commission.

Babloo Loitongbam, noted human rights activist from Imphal said that women have been vulnerable under such circumstances. He mentioned that as many as 12 cases of rape have been committed by the armed security forces in Manipur in last several years. He also expressed concern on the extra judicial killings in the region.

CEDAW also called for registering cases of all the victims even when the perpetrators are from the army, paramilitary or other security forces.

”India has been the focus of the recent human rights discourse in the United Nations. It has presented an unprecedented opportunity to the Government of India to re-examine its human rights performance with reference to women’s rights,” said Babloo.

Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC), a nation-wide campaign in support of Irom Sharmila and against AFSPA, too condemned the re-arrest. SSSC considers this re-arrest of Irom Sharmila as a mockery of judiciary by the state. While the judiciary had released her by quashing the charges of “attempt to suicide”, the state has re-arrested her on the same grounds.

SSSC believes that it is a failure of state to resolve the issue of AFSPA and it is making Sharmila, a victim of state. At this time when few days ago, even the government said that it is considering the decriminalization of the 309 IPC, it seems that the state functionaries are trying to get the benefit till the time the government decriminalizes it.

SSSC appealed to the Government of India to intervene in the issue and to order immediate release of Sharmila.

“AFSPA must be removed in view of large scale human rights violations. Even the state leadership of present ruling party in Central govt had favored in repealing of this act. The state unit of BJP had promised the repeal of AFSPA during the elections,” a SSSC statement said.