The Manipur East Sessions court on Tuesday ordered the immediate release of 42-year-old Irom Sharmila who has been on a hunger strike for the past 13 years over the demand of repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the state. Irom was detained at Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS).
The court directive was in response to a revision petition filed by Irom’s counsel Khadamani. A civil rights activist, Irom has been force-fed through her nose for over a decade now.
She had been placed under arrest under Section 309 of Indian Penal Code for attempt to commit suicide. “The court said that no evidence has so far been found that Irom has indeed been trying to commit suicide,’’ Khadamani told The Indian Express.
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On June 1, 2014 Imphal East judicial Magistrate Nouteneshwari Devi had accepted a chargesheet filed by the state government and ordered the framing of charges against Sharmila under Section 309. “But today the sessions court set aside the chargesheet after hearing mine and the public prosecutor’s arguments,” said Khadamani.
Irom’s brother Irom Singhjit added the family expected her to be re-arrested within days of her release. “That is what we expect the state government to do. She will not give up her fast, so we feel that they will charge her anew,’’ he said.
This is the first time that a court has clearly thrown out the suicide case against Irom and directed her release. The court’s order is yet to be received by the state government and Manipur police. “Hunger strikes have been a part of democratic dissent in our country. Mahatma Gandhi did it for years and was never arrested by the British. When Anna Hazare held fasts nobody arrested him. Then why criminalise Irom and her protest?,” said Khadammani.
Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of Human Rights Alert and one of Irom’s campaigners said the order is nothing less than a “moral and political victory’’ for the people of Manipur. He added that the state government now needed to hold dialogue with Irom.
However, a section of activists are apprehensive. “We are euphoric with the verdict. But, if she is released from JNIMS, then who will look after her health. She will not stop her fast, but we don’t want her health to deteriorate. The government must provide her with healthcare and continue to feed her through her nose,” says an activist.
Some activists further said this was a desperate move by the Congress government that was increasingly becoming unpopular in the state.