Imphal: 'Iron Lady' Irom Chanu Sharmila, who is demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur, on Saturday, completed 11 years of her indefinite hunger-strike. (Agencies)
On November 2, 2000, an Assam Rifles battalion allegedly killed 10 civilians in a village near Imphal. Three days later, Sharmila embarked on her fast, demanding revocation of the Act.
Since then it has settled into a ritual which involves a ten-minute ambulance journey from hospital to court every fortnight where the magistrate asks her whether she would break her fast.
The ritual has repeated itself over 500 times so far, but her reply remains the same - "Fast thodolokai" (No, I won't break my fast). The court then extends her judicial remand for another 15 days.
She hasn't ingested food or water all these years and is force-fed through a nasal tube. Hunger strike is seen as an attempt to commit suicide, which is a punishable offence.
The 39-year-old civil rights activist, described as a 'habitual offender' by the court, has been arrested, released and re-arrested for attempt to commit suicide.
Produced as an undertrial prisoner at the Imphal East district's CJM court, she has refused bail each time.
"If she accepts bail she has to give a written undertaking of not repeating the offence. In other words, she has to discontinue her fast for getting bail," Sharmila's long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam of the Just Peace Foundation said.
The police, too, have not filed any charge sheet in the case.
Superintendent of Manipur Central Jail, Themthing Ngashangva pointed out that under Section 309 of the IPC, the maximum punishment for trying to commit suicide is one year.
"After she completes one year of imprisonment by way of unending judicial remands, she is released once. But after that she is re-arrested for continuing the fast," he said.
As the same judicial exercise is repeated each time, Sharmila's family does not even feel the need for a lawyer to represent her case in court.
An isolated ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, where she is forcibly nasally-fed, has now become her home.
"Her only companion is books and medicines. Hardly any visitor is allowed to meet her," said Irom Singhajit, Sharmila's younger sister who has also turned into a human rights activist.
Largely ignored by the mainstream media, Sharmila's non-violent resistance has become a nucleus for collective protest against AFSPA in the Northeast.
Recognising her as the face of the campaign, over 50 groups like the National Alliance for People's Movement, Save Democracy Repeal AFSPA, Asian Centre for Social Studies, Asha Parivar and PEACE have launched an anti-AFSPA, 'Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign'.
Imphal: 'Iron Lady' Irom Chanu Sharmila, who is demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur, on Saturday, completed 11 years of her indefinite hunger-strike.