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Court Cases

Iron Lady of Manipur knows 'what's right, what's wrong'

The world's longest hunger striker, India's Irom Sharmila, has been fasting for 12 years to demand the repeal of legislation that gives immunity to soldiers. She has refused to plead guilty to attempted suicide.

Right through the brief court proceedings, the fragile, yet resolute 40-year-old social campaigner looked calm and collected. There was no trace of nervousness on the face of Irom Sharmila, who is often referred to as the Iron Lady of Manipur.

When metropolitan magistrate Akash Jain pointed out that she had attempted to commit suicide when she threatened to fast unto death during public protest in the capital in October 2006, Sharmila was unmoved.

Attempted suicide?

Flanked by her lawyer, a stoic Sharmila replied, "I do not want to commit suicide. Mine is a non-violent protest. It is my demand to live as a human being. I love life. I do not want to take my life. I want justice and peace."

The case will adjourn in May.

Outside the court, where over 50 supporters of the Iron Lady gathered in support of her campaign, she was vocal and forthright.

Army conducting flag march from Pantha Chowk to Nowgam, Rawalpora-Sanantnagar, Hyderpora and Bemina in Srinagar

Activists say the AFSPA give the army too much power

"I am just a simple woman. I want to follow the non-violent principle of Gandhiji, the father of the nation. Treat us like him and do not discriminate. Don't be biased against any human being," she called out to the Indian government.

"I am taking personal pain to send a message for the improvement of and for a peaceful environment," she told DW.

Sharmila, who is also a poet and writer, started her fast in November, 2000. Soon thereafter, she was charged with attempted suicide, which is illegal in India, and has since had to be force-fed via a feeding tube through her nose in the northeastern state of Manipur. Under close supervision, she is administered a liquid mixture of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins in the security ward of a government hospital.

Armed Forces Special Powers Act

Her hunger strike began after security forces allegedly shot and killed 10 people, including teenagers, following an explosion on a road outside a village, not too far from her house. The soldiers later claimed they acted in self-defense, but a judicial inquiry found no evidence to support this.

"I know what I am doing and I know what is right and what is wrong," she said.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the Indian army and paramilitary forces sweeping powers to arrest people without warrants and use force against suspects without fear of prosecution has been the subject of serious debate in recent years.

A draconian law, say civil rights groups

During the height of armed insurgency in the early 1990s, on mere suspicion, people were indiscriminately arrested and sometimes killed at point blank by law-enforcing agencies in the northeast region.

Security personnel carry an injured policeman after a landmine blast in the jungles of Bariganwa, in Jharkhand, India, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. (Photo:AP/dapd)

In Jharkhand, security forces use the AFSPA to fight armed Maoists

Calls upon the government to abolish the controversial legislation have persisted.

"This is a law which should be scrapped immediately. The government has been dithering on this subject for long and rights violations are mounting," Seema Misra, a rights lawyer told DW.

Following the outcry from civil rights groups, the government claims it has been trying to revisit AFSPA and build consensus on scrapping some other controversial clauses.

However, the defense ministry and the armed forces have resolutely opposed any amendments.

Ironically, Sharmila's court appearance comes at a time when here has been a spurt in complaints received by the human rights cell of the army from the northeastern states.

The number of such reports has gone up from 26 in 2012 to 51 in just over two months this year, according to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who said the government had established a human rights cell in the army to take suitable action with the agencies concerned.

Author: Murali Krishnan

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