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Had Irom Sharmila’s 16-Year Fast Paid Off Her Struggle?

A girl in her 20s decided to sacrifice her youthful days to fight for her people, to fight for justice and to fight for a fair nation. Meet Irom Sharmila, now a lady of 44, who has been on fast for the past sixteen years, which she broke today.

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Known as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’, Sharmila started her hunger strike in the aftermath of one of the deadliest military attacks in the state’s history, the ‘Malom Massacre’ where ten civilians were shot dead at a bus stand by Assam Rifles, an Indian Paramilitary force operating in Manipur. This goes way back in November 2, 2000.

Sharmila’s movement – not to eat, drink, comb her hair or even look at the mirror – was a protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, according to which in any North-eastern state, security forces were granted the power to rummage around properties without a search warrant, and to arrest people, and to use deadly force if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is acting against the state. This act was and still is highly misused by the armed forces. Sharmila urged the government to repeal the act.

However, she was arrested just three days after her hunger strike, with an ‘attempt to commit suicide’ charge. As her health got worse, Sharmila was forced with a nasogastric intubation to keep her alive. She was later released and had been re-arrested a number of times.

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Sharmila received a lot of support nationally and internationally. But the real support which had to come from the government was missing. Her sixteen years of hardship and dedication appealing for a fair law went unheard. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 remains as it is, absolutely untouched!  Even today, so many people are losing their lives, their homes, their safety and their dignity due to the power this act endows. Women are raped, innocent civilians are murdered, families robbed – all by our security forces who were created to safeguard us. Unfortunately the truth has a different story!

Today, as Sharmila tasted a drop of honey, her heart cried in pain that her appeal was ignored, that her hope in the government was tarnished. She, who has met her mother just once in these sixteen years, had once said “The day AFSPA is repealed I will eat rice from my mother’s hand.” But she realized that that day would never come and it’s time to break her silence, to break her fast and lead a new movement for the same old cause. Sharmila looks forward to join politics, be the CM of Manipur, be a part of the government to make a change in it.

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