Kolkata, 15 Nov 2015 : Branding as “draconian” the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to deal with terrorism, civil society activists Saturday staged a protest here against the Act and commemorated the 15th year of the ongoing hunger strike by Manipuri anti-AFSPA activist Irom Sharmila Chanu.
The “Iron Lady”, as Sharmila is known in Manipur, is on fast since Nov 4, 2000, while seeking repeal of the AFSPA following the killing of 10 people allegedly by the paramilitary Assam Rifles at Malom Nov 2, 2000.
The AFSPA is in force in whole or in parts of Manipur, Tripura, Assam and Nagaland, as also in Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and in Jammu and Kashmir.
It provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot at sight, arrest people without a warrant or carry out searches without hindrance, and also insulates them from legal processes for any action undertaken under the Act.
In addition, it permits the army and the paramilitary forces operating in areas declared as “disturbed” by the home ministry to take whatever action they deem fit against terrorists.
According to Sunanda Mukherjee, chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women, the law had created a division between the northeastern states and rest of India.
“Why can’t these states be included in the Indian mainstream?” she questioned, expressing solidarity with Sharmila.
The 42-year-old human rights activist was released recently after a district and sessions court asked the Manipur government to free her from the makeshift jail set up in a hospital since November 2000.
However, Sharmila was re-arrested only after two days on charges of attempt to commit suicide, after she refused to undergo a medical check-up or be force-fed following her release.
She was charged under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to commit suicide) that provides for a year’s custody at a stretch. Sharmila, who has been released and arrested again after every 364 days, is force-fed thrice a day.
Poet Subodh Sarkar lauded the activist for continuing the fight despite the hostilities.
“Visitors are barred from meeting her. Despite such an oppressive environment, she has bravely carried on the struggle,” Sarkar said.
Sociologist and activist Saswati Ghosh said the Act was being used by the Chinese to gain the confidence of the northeastern states.
Several human rights groups, including the North East Students’ Organisation, have also been demanding withdrawal of the AFSPA.—–-IANS