Irom Sarmila, a political and civil rights activist, journalist and poet, has been on a hunger strike since 4 November 2000 demanding the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (henceforth AFSPA), a draconian law that allows the security forces unrestricted and unaccounted powers in areas that are declared “disturbed”. Under the AFSPA, the army is “allowed” to arrest, search and even shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so to “maintain public order”.
The Act was first applied to the north-eastern states of Assam and Manipur in 1958, and subsequently amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in north-east India — Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of enforced “disappearances”, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting by security personnel. (Read more about the AFSPA at the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre.)
The Manipuri people have protested, demonstrated and petitioned against the AFSPA, with the support of civil society groups, political parties and human rights group, both Indian and international. Sarmila’s unique battle for peace has become a powerful symbol for all those engaged in fighting for peace in the region. She began her protest ten years ago after 10 civilians were gunned down in Malom by the army. Taken into custody and released every twelve months by the state for attempting suicide, she is being force fed to keep her alive.
Zubaan has published a collection of Irom Sarmila’s poems called Fragrance of Peace, which has been translated into English from Meiteilon (Manipuri). A compilation of twelve poems, the volume “provides a moving account of the underbelly of one woman’s lone struggle for peace” (from the blurb). The book was to be released in Imphal during the 10th anniversary of her hunger fast for the repeal of the AFSPA, but permission to do so was denied.
You can support Sarmila’s campaign by buying copies of her book since all proceeds from its sales will go towards it.
Price: Rs. 125 (+Rs. 25 for postage).
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