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Mar 04, 2013 at 02:40pm IST

Charges framed against Irom Sharmila over fast-unto-death, 'iron lady' refuses to plead guilty

New Delhi: A Delhi court has framed charges against anti-AFSPA activist Irom 'Chanu' Sharmila 'for attempting to commit suicide' under Section 309 of IPC on March 4, 2013. Sharmila has refused to plead guilty to the charges.

On landing in Delhi, 40-year-old Sharmila had reiterated she was not trying to commit suicide and that the fast was a valid political protest. "I don't want to commit suicide. I am protesting by non-violence at my best level...I am sure the government will listen to me and repeal AFSPA," she said.

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Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast for more than 12 years to protest against imposition and continuation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. Irom Sharmila, also referred to Manipur's 'Iron Lady', is force-fed through the nose to keep her alive. Irom started her fast on November 5, 2000, exactly three days after ten people, including a boy who received the national bravery award and a 62-year-old woman, were shot dead in an alleged encounter by Assam Rifles personnel at Malom near Imphal airport on November 2, 2000.

She was arrested on November 6 and charged with attempt to commit suicide. Since then she has been perodically produced in court from time to time, rearrested and produced again in court.

Under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, attempt to commit suicide is a crime. Irom was first transferred to judicial custody in 2000 soon after her arrest. But her health deteriorated rapidly and the administration used nasogastric intubation in order to keep her alive while under arrest. Under IPC section 309, maximum punishment can entail a jail term extending to one year at the maximum or a fine or both. Since 2000, she is force-fed at a government hospital at Porompat where the ward she is in has been converted into a jail.

Sharmila has long emerged as an icon of public resistance to draconian acts and government high-handedness. Amongst the various awards and recognition she has received, the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which is given to "an outstanding person or group, active in the promotion and advocacy of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights" is the most notable. In 2010, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission. Pune University in 2011 offered scholarship to 39 students from Manipur to honour her. Irom was 39 years old then. On March 14, 2013, Irom Sharmila will turn 41.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA is a controversial Act of the Indian Parliament enacted in 1958 that allows security forces including military and paramilitary personnel sweeping powers and protects them from legal prosecution. It was first used in the 'Disturbed Areas' of the northeast which included the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura and was later extended to Jammu and Kashmir.

The controversial AFSPA allows an officer of the armed forces to use measures such as make unwarranted arrests or search any premises to make arrests. The extreme clauses in the law have led to misuse of the powers given to the para-military forces, with civil rights activists launching widespread protests demanding its rollback.

While various state governments have voiced their opinion against AFSPA, the Centre has desisted from either repealing or withdrawing the Act under pressure from the security forces who insist that AFSPA is an imperative if militancy has to be countered. In Manipur, one particular paramilitary force, Assam Rifles, is notorious for alleged excesses and gross human rights violations which include false encounter killings, rapes, incidents of torture and other forms of rights abuse.

The most notable of them has been the case of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama alias Henthoi who was reportedly tortured, raped and executed by personnel of the 17 Assam Rifles, after she was picked by them in the early hours of July 11, 2004. The incident had sparked off massive anger and outrage and the authorities had to impose curfew in substantial parts of the state to bring the situation under control.

AFSPA has long been condemned by civil society organisations and international rights campaigners. It has earned the Indian government a bad name here and abroad.

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