Imphal: Irom Sharmila, who has been on fasts unto death since November 4, 2000, to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, has rejected state Social Welfare Minister Akoijam Mirabai's appeal to call off her hunger strike.
Also the Congress government in Manipur is in a damage control mode as Mirabai embarrassed it with her "misleading statement" before Sharmila that the state government's request for repealing the AFSPA was not being paid heed to by the Centre.
The incident occurred when on the occasion of the International Women's Day on Tuesday two women legislators -- Mirabai and Okram Landhoni, wife of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi - visited Sharmila in her security ward of J.N. Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal.
During the brief meeting, Sharmila wanted to know from the visiting leaders if she was asking for something impossible.
"Am I asking for the moon? The role of women in making the society peaceful and vibrant is well-known. Though I have been on fast for 16 years, the state government has turned a blind eye and it is very disappointing. Tripura has shown that the AFSPA can be lifted any time," Sharmila said.
Mirabai tried to mollify her by saying: "It is the central government which shall lift the AFSPA. The state government has been constantly exerting pressure on the Centre to lift it. So you must call off your hunger strike and all of us could continue demanding the same."
It sounded incredulous to Sharmila who is well-versed with law and human rights movement. Besides all sections of people were taken aback by the minister's statement.
Many sections in Manipur are asking whether it is a case of taking the people for a ride or the minister herself is unaware of the law.
Advocate and human rights activist Khaidem Mani told IANS Mirabai is perhaps not aware of the clear-cut legal provisions. "The state cabinet is competent enough to lift the Disturbed Areas Act under which the AFSPA is imposed."
When the Manipur government lifted the AFSPA from seven assembly segments in Imphal on August 12, 2004, the state cabinet took the decision and no permission was sought in advance from the Centre.
"Tripura government did not seek permission or approval from the centre while lifting it from that state," Mani said.
Sharmila has made it known that there is no question of calling off her fast unless the AFSPA is repealed.
The court of chief judicial magistrate released her twice. However, within two days she was re-arrested as she resumed her fast instead of going home. Sharmila is facing charge of attempt to suicide in the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Imphal West, and the Patiala House Court, Delhi.