NEW DELHI: March 14 was Irom Sharmila’s 43rd birthday and it couldn’t have been celebrated in a more apt manner and at a more relevant a place. The venue, Jantar Mantar witnessed a day long fast this Saturday organised by the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign, Association of Protection of Civil Rights, Lok Raj Sangathan and Students Islamic Organisation of India.

Showing their support for the Iron Lady and demanding repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), many people participated in the hunger strike.

Not only New Delhi, but supporters from other parts of India and even Korea were actively involved in this protest. Showing solidarity to the cause, some people in Mumbai, Panipat and Lucknow also went on fast at their workplace and home. Moreover, even in Korea, persons were extending their support by fasting at Gunim Church. Geo Sung Kim, a renowned activist from Korea who is also associated with Transparency International Korea conveyed his support and solidarity for Sharmila.

Irom Chanu Sharmila, or the Iron Lady as she is popularly called, is on a fast since 2000 demanding repeal of the oppressive and the draconian AFSPA from Manipur and the whole of northeast and Kashmir. Her refusal to take food and water for more than 500 weeks has actually accounted for the “world’s longest hunger strike”. She was arrested again last month, the fourth time, on charges of abetment to suicide while she has on several occasions clearly stated that she wants to live but ‘freely’.

Those present at Jantar Mantar were seeking justice and demanding the immediate repeal of the draconian law. Although they were silent and peaceful, their demands and message was loud and strong- they were seeking democracy, they were fighting for better governance and a more humane society.

“The vicious cycle of arrest of Irom Sharmila is shameful and undemocratic. Instead of focusing on her demand, her issue, the Government is only responding by arresting her. It is shameful that in these 15 years, the “concerned” Govt. of both state and centre have not made a single attempt to open talks with her. The Govt. must also know that by arresting her, they cannot suppress her thoughts, her ideology,” asserted Ravi Nitesh from Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign.

Questioning the state and the authorities, Devika Mittal, a core member of Save Sharmila Campaign and a research student said, "It is a shame that this state which claims to talk about women's rights has such a law that gives shield to rapists. But this is not just the hypocrisy of the student but also the people. What about India's daughters in North-east and Kashmir?" .

Hopeful that their voices would one day be paid heed to, Lenin Raghuvanshi of People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), Varanasi said that it was unfortunate to see that even after 15 years, government has done almost nothing.

The organisers of the hunger strike also submitted a memorandum to the PMO raising their demands of repealing AFSPA and immediately releasing Irom Sharmila, quashing charges of section 309 from her from cases lodged in Manipur and Delhi.

The memorandum further stated the fact that the BJP state leadership had promised the repeal of the draconian Act before parliamentary elections, and how it now seems to be only a political gimmick.

“It is shameful that that they can only see her as a law offender but not as a victim. It is shameful that in this democracy, the victim is imprisoned instead of the culprit. AFSPA is the culprit and this has been established by Govt-appointed committees, national and international human rights’ organizations and even judiciary”, remarked Madhvi Bansal, a student.

Social Activist Dipak Dholakia talked about how AFSPA is unjustifiable and has no place in a country that claims to be modelled on the ideals of democracy and humanity. “AFSPA is an inhuman law. The gross violations of AFSPA has been proved by Government's own commissions, the judiciary and international and national human rights organisations.”, he commented.

Attacking AFSPA, S. Raghavan from Lokraj Sangathan said that it is unfortunate in a democracy like India that claims of being biggest democracy, that state always keep such draconian laws like AFSPA, UAPA etc. “We have witnessed that state just modify one and apply another and these laws violate the very nature and value of democracy itself”, he said.

The protesters raised various concerns with respect to AFSPA and talked about how it provided impunity in both Kashmir and the north east. It was also discussed how the very basis of democracy is in grave danger owing to such draconian laws.