Manipur, a northeastern state of India bordering Myanmar, has been embroiled with armed insurgency and ethnic conflict for the past four decades.
The Indian government imposed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1980 to deal with the armed rebellion, in what the government calls “a disturbed area”.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is also applied in India-administered Kashmir, gives security forces the power to detain and arrest anybody on mere suspicion, enter and search without warrants. The armed forces are exempt from any investigation or prosecution under the law that many human rights activists dub draconian.
Under this Act, several human rights violations such as fake encounters, torture, sexual abuse and enforced disappearances committed by Indian armed forces have come to light.
Irom Sharmila, a human rights activist based in Manipur, had been fasting for the past 14 years demanding the repeal of this Act, which is arguably one of the longest protest fasts in history.
She was released from a prison hospital in Manipur on August 20 where doctors had force fed her to keep her alive. She was charged with the attempt to commit suicide, which is a crime under Indian law.
“It is hard for me to believe that I am free now. My battle against injustice and crimes committed by the army in Manipur will continue,” Sharmila told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
In 2004, following the rape and murder of a young woman named Thangjam Manorama, widespread protests took place in the northeastern Indian state. Manorama’s death triggered a protest by 12 middle-aged women who stripped naked and protested holding up signs saying “Indian Army Rape Us” in the state capital, Imphal, which made international headlines.
In January last year, the Supreme Court appointed a commission to make inquiries into these allegations after a public interest litigation was filed listing 1,528 people as victims of this draconian law. Six cases were pulled up at random and investigated, all of which were found to be fake encounters.