The first time since 42-year-old Irom Sharmila went on a hunger strike, since the year 2000, to pressure the central and state governments to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state, a sessions court on Tuesday ordered her release. The court overturned an earlier order by a judicial magistrate earlier last month slapping section 309 of the IPC, attempt to commit suicide on the civil rights activist. But even as the entire state waits in anticipation for their icon to be released finally from her house arrest (Sharmila has been kept in judicial custody in a ward at JNIMS hospital), the consequences of this historic judgment is being debated.
The actual release itself is unraveling in the midst of great confusion in the capital city of Imphal.
Her family as well as activists in Manipur, who have supported her cause for over a decade now believe that it is just a matter of time that Sharmila is re-arrested and taken into custody by the state government once again. Many believe, and rightly so, that Sharmila is perceived to be too much of a threat for the state government and too dangerous “to be let lose”’ with no restrictions on her movement and exposure to people.
The question to be asked now, is what charges the state government will come up with to ensure that she can be taken into custody again. With the court throwing section 309 out of the window, the only recourse the state government may have is to approach the Manipur High Court for a stay.
Why? In this distant small land locked conflict ridden north eastern state, during this decade of her fight against what is perceived as a draconian law, Sharmila is much more than just being an icon – she is a Goddess. What Sharmila will have to see once she comes out is how much actual support she can garner – this is just a matter of logistics. The state government rightly fears that masses of Manipuris, cutting across differences in religion and tribe – are likely to flock to her.
Activists in Manipur are ecstatic about her release, Sharmila fasting in judicial custody gave an unprecedented impetus to their cause, outside judicial custody she will be a force to be reckoned with. Freedom of movement will allow her to travel across the state garnering support, binding communities together for the first time.
She will be able to travel to Delhi and other cities in the country taking her appeal directly to the people of India herself. She will be able to take her message to continued…