Irom Sharmila, 44, the Iron Lady of Manipur,a small state in north-east India, has ended her sixteen years old fast.
She started her fast unto death as a protest against the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) after troops of the Assam Rifles gunned down 10 civilians at Malom near Imphal airport on November 2, 2000.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) is considered to be one of the most draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has ever passed. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed. Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to “maintain the public order”.
The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of “aiding civil power.” It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India. They are Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the “seven sisters”. The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel. This legislation is sought to be justified by the Government of India, on the plea that it is required to stop the North East states from seceding from the Indian Union. The law gives troops sweeping powers to kill even on suspicion and have immunity from prosecution.