Manipur’s ‘Iron Lady’ and activist Irom Sharmila has announced that she will break her 16-year-old hunger strike on August 9. For the last 16 years she had been protesting against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Manipur.
This announcement was made by her in front of media persons outside the Imphal court on Tuesday where she also revealed her plans to contest in the state elections in Manipur. Activists associated with her, welcomed her decision and said that this would mark a new beginning in the fight against AFSPA in the state. “It is a bit of a surprise. We are trying to get in touch with her for more details,” said Babloo Loitongbom, an activist close to her.
Her decision to contest the elections will have a huge impact on Manipur’s political scene. This announcement comes as a surprise as she had previously said that there was no question of ending the fast till AFSPA is withdrawn from the state. Sharmila had began her fast in November 2000 to protest against the gunning down by the Assam Rifles of 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop at Malom near Imphal airport.
Recently, the apex court directed a thorough probe into alleged fake encounter killings there, saying the use of “excessive or retaliatory force” by the armed forces or police was not permissible in ‘disturbed areas’ under the draconian AFSPA.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in 1958 to bring under control what the government of India considered ‘disturbed’ areas and the act has often faced criticism from human rights groups as it gives sweeping powers and immunity to the army in conflict-ridden areas.