Irom Sharmila has not eaten a meal in 12 years. The 40-year-old has been on a hunger strike – and force fed through a tube by authorities – to protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
She was charged by a Delhi court today with attempted suicide. Appearing in court with her nose tube in place, she pleaded not guilty.
“I love life. I do not want to take my life, but I want justice and peace,” she said in court, which she attended after flying in from Manipur over the weekend.
Dubbed the “Iron Lady” by her supporters, Sharmila has become a rallying point for those demanding the repeal of AFSPA. It gives troops in conflict areas the right to shoot to kill suspected rebels without fear of possible prosecution and to arrest suspected militants without a warrant. Women’s rights activists have said the law allows troops to rape women without fear of arrest or punishment.
Sharmila had her last voluntary meal Nov. 4, 2000, in Imphal, the capital of Manipur. She was arrested three days later and has been force fed through a tube in her nose ever since. Under law, she has to be released once a year to see if she will start eating. When she doesn’t, she is taken back into custody and force fed.
The current charges stem from a 2006 protest she attended in New Delhi. Police took her from the protest venue, hospitalized her and registered a case of attempted suicide against her.
Her trial in Delhi has been set for May 22. If convicted, she faces one year in prison.
Sharmila’s supporters held a demonstration outside the court demanding the repeal of the act.
The army opposes any weakening of AFSPA, saying it needs extraordinary powers to deal with insurgents.
The law prohibits soldiers from being prosecuted for alleged rights violations unless granted express permission from the Centre.