AFSPA and ‘attempt to commit suicide’

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Irom Sharmila who has not touched a morsel of food for the past 16 years was produced before the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal West on June 14. As demanded by the statute of the country, Sharmila has been appearing before different Courts periodically. She is being detained and charged under IPC Section 309 (attempting to commit suicide). But she has been vehemently denying the same charge and she has made it clear that she has no intention to commit suicide by fasting. She was even summoned to Patiala House Court, New Delhi on several occasions for fasting against AFSPA at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. The last time Sharmila appeared before Patiala House Court, she was acquitted of the charge of attempting to commit suicide. The Court of Sessions Judge, Imphal East passed a landmark judgment on August 19, 2014. The Court’s verdict reads, “The petitioner (Irom Sharmila) be released from custody, if not required in any other case”. The Sessions Court verdict said that Sharmila shows no intention of committing suicide either by way of continuous fasting or other means. Thus first ingredient of the offence punishable under Section 309 IPC, i.e to commit suicide is lacking. The Court which represents the country’s judiciary in the particular case, through its verdict, is directly or indirectly upholding Sharmila’s struggle as well as the mode of struggle. Yet, Sharmila is still being detained.
Is the phrase ‘fast unto death’ not applicable or misplaced with regard to the Sharmila’s struggle? Sharmila has been fasting since 2000 with breaks of only 24 hours or so between one release order and next formal arrest. Sharmila has been fasting for the last 16 years and yet she has no intention to commit suicide. This may sound paradoxical or ironical to casual observers. But the truth is, there is no inherent incompatibility in this observation. The underlying message behind Sharmila’s unprecedented marathon fasting is that she is committed to battle against repressive laws, more precisely AFSPA till the end. Switching to Sharmila’s subject of struggle, no doubt, AFSPA is enforced only in areas declared ‘disturbed’. But what one finds hard to digest is New Delhi’s understanding of ‘disturbed’ area. Whereas North East and JK have been declared ‘disturbed’ since many decades back, they could not see any disturbance in the Red Corridor where Maoists are virtually controlling swathes and swathes of territory. Very much has been talked about AFSPA and an intense debate is still going on. Yet the Ministry of Home Affairs is in no urgency to review the infamous AFSPA.
Apart from Sharmila, people of Manipur and Kashmir, demand for repeal of the Act emanated from all UN Treaty and Charter based bodies, Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, Administrative Reform Commission and Ansari Report on J&K, etc. Yet the Government of India still feels that AFSPA is essential for North East and Kashmir. By restricting AFSPA only to these regions, the infamous Act has been imbued with sectarian and discriminatory colours as many observers commented while some others went to the extent of calling AFSPA racist. If this is the case we cannot help asking whether Sharmila is a victim of both AFSPA and racism.

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