Iconic struggle

If it was thought that Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for 14 years and was in police custody for the period, would be granted freedom on the basis of a court judgement, that was a mistake.

She has been arrested again and will face indefinite internment again. It took 14 years for a lower court to declare that her hunger strike was not illegal. It can take many more years for the courts to take a final decision on the legal status of her arrest. The state may still find reasons to circumvent a ruling which upholds her right to protest without violating the law. She had been freed every year in the last 14 years on completion of 364 days of custody and arrested again.

Sharmila has been fasting against the imposition and continuation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur which gives unrestrained powers to the armed forces to search, arrest or kill citizens. It is a draconian law which practically gives total immunity to the Forces from action under laws which ensure normal constitutional rights and justice to citizens.

The need for the law has been widely questioned and even a committee appointed by the UPA government had recommended its repeal. But governments have not been to do so or to soften its provisions because of opposition from the Forces. The panel had felt that other existing laws, perhaps with appropriate amendments, are enough to handle the situations related to militancy and insurgency which are sought to be addressed by the AFSPA.

Unfortunately, a law which seeks to curb insurgency is only helping to create more disaffection among the people, thus weakening the fight against anti-national forces. This has been the perception about the application of the law not only in Manipur but elsewhere too.

The court found that Irom Sharmila had committed no crime with her fast and the charge of attempt to commit suicide cannot be invoked in her case. But it seems the same charge is again being invoked, though the government is also claiming that she is being detained for her own safety.

She has already become a martyr and an icon with her long and unusual fight for normal rights. As long as she is held under one pretext or the other, the government will only be drawing attention to the use of unjust and undemocratic laws in some parts of the country.

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