NEW DELHI: A convention on Repeal AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) was organized here at New Delhi today with the objective to bring demand of Repeal AFSPA in political priorities. This convention was organized on the eve of Nov 2 where Irom Sharmila, better known as Iron lady of Manipur is completing 15 years of her hunger strike with the demand to Repeal AFSPA.

Convention was attended by various eminent speakers that includes NeinguloKrom (Secretary General of Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights), Babloo Loitongbam (Human Rights Activist from Manipur), Swami Agnivesh , Prof Nandini Sundar, Prof Deepti Priya Mehrotra , Ashok Agarwal and others. Youths and other activists also attended the convention in large numbers and extended their support towards the cause.

This convention was organized by Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC), Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Just Peace Foundation (JPF), Forum Asia and Human Rights Alert. Those who participated also signed sheets to endorse the demand of Repeal AFSPA from all regions (North east and J&K) and release of Irom Sharmila. Father Denzil delivered his welcome note in start of convention.

Irom Sharmila, from Manipur has completed 15 years of her hunger protest on Nov 2. She is observing fast as a form of protest since the year 2000 (when she was about 28 years old), and she had started it just after Malom massacre where Assam rifles had fired upon local civilians who were waiting at a bus stand in Malom, Imphal (Manipur) and all were killed. Irom decided to register her protest because incidents of torture and killings were common in Manipur and in the veil of the powers under AFSPA,nothing could be done against culprit security personals. Irom Sharmila started her fast and did not leave it since then. She has only demand, Repeal AFSPA, as it is AFSPA that is main culprit , because it provides extraordinary powers to security personals to operate in Manipur and other such areas and these powers have been misused widely.

AFSPA has provisions of shoot to kill mere on probability, but it does not stop here, instead it goes beyond and says that no case can be lodged against any security personals without pre sanction from central government. Sadly, in all such years, no approval was given by central government and despite hundreds of reported cases of fake killings, torture and rapes, nothing could be done to punish culprits.

As, Irom Sharmila did not leave her fast, Manipur police registered a case against her under section 309 of ‘attempt to suicide’ and put her in jail. During her release from jail for a day in 2006, Irom Sharmila came to Delhi, paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and later joined a fast at Jantar Mantar. Delhi Police also registered another case under same section of attempt to suicide here in Delhi and matter went to court. Presently, Irom Sharmila is under arrest by Manipur police and living her life in security ward of JLN hospital of Manipur. The case in Delhi also, is still going on and Irom Sharmila appears before Delhi court on court notices and when Manipur government becomes ready to produce her at Delhi.

Despite her fast since the last 15 years and government’s ignorance, even suppression through lodging her behind bars, did not break her faith in democracy or non violence. She always smiles, and tells , ‘I have faith in democracy. Government will listen one day’

Sadly, government is not listening, and even one of her demand to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not been accepted yet. She thinks Prime Minister does not want to meet her as probably government has no reply for all her demands and questions about suppression of people through AFSPA.

This act, AFSPA as one of the most draconian one that is not only dangerous to people, but even damage the reputation of security forces and of world’s largest democracy that is advocating for UNSC seat.

Govt’s own committees have recommended to repeal this act. Even many fake killings, rapes and cases of disappearances were not only reported but even proved, but till now govt has not repealed this act. Many national and international human rights organizations also raising their voice to demand to repeal this act. State leadership of BJP in Manipur and PDP in J&K had favored to repeal of this act, but now they are silent.

NeinguloKrome , Secretary General of NPMHR said “AFSPA is a violation of Human Rights and if India is truly a democratic country then this Act should be removed immediately. He also described about cases that are before Supreme Court against human rights violations”

Babloo Loitongbam , a human rights activist from Manipur emphasized that this law has no place in a democratic country like India. This process needs to stop because it violates democracy to its core. He also said that we need to move our struggle in such a way that we should be able to celebrate Irom Sharmila’s victory in her struggle and even if Govt of India accepts her demand, it will be a victory of govt itself as it will send a message that govt respects for human rights.

Swami Agnivesh said he will lender all his support to the youth of this country in this struggle to repeal AFSPA from J&K and the North Eastern states of India. He also said that it is painful to see that religious groups raise voice when something happen to any member of their religion, but why don’t they speak upon such issues where laws like AFSPA are violating human rights with all acceptance and permission by govt. Are not speaking for these acts are also a thing that religion should call for.

Prof Sanjoy Hazarika spoke of the 15 years of Irom Sharmila’s struggle, 10 years since the Jeevan Reddy Committee flagging issues of concern. Hazarika said that future strategies should be developed to tackle these issues.

Prof Nandini Sundar talked about the Irom Sharmila Scholarships started by Delhi University three years ago and how to make them more effective. She also shared stories from the students who have received these scholarships.

Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer and author of the book ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’ raised questions as to when will Sharmila’s struggle end…? He wonders whether the people are waiting for Sharmila to die to make her struggle a meaningful statement.

Prof Deepti Priya Mehrotra, who has also written a book on Irom Sharmila titled ‘Burning Bright’ said, “Sharmila is the voice of ordinary people. Let the 21st century be the century of Sharmila.” She also emphasized that it is only through solidarity that different voices are joined together and this is the only way in which we can stand up and fight for it.

From APCR, Kashif Ahmed Faraz said, ‘People are now much aware of this issue and are coming up to fight for it. But we shouldn’t stop here. We should continue spreading awareness about it…”