It was expected. It has been happening ever since.

We have seen it happening year after year – Irom Sharmila is released and is re-arrested.

And yes, we know, the state has been behind it- complicit, willingly and comfortably. Her annual release is basically technical in nature otherwise the state would not let her go, unless the court rules so, something that happened this time, something that that gave her a freedom of more than a day.

Indian rights activist Irom SharmilaImage courtesy: Reuters

The court order came on August 19 quashing the charge of ‘attempt to commit suicide’ – she was released on August 20 evening – the police approached her on August 21 for the usual round as Sharmila continued with her fast not taking food and water and refusing medical checkup – and on August 22 morning, she was taken by the police again to the same ‘isolation’ ward of the Imphal hospital where she has spent so many years demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – and where a chief judicial magistrate remanded her to 15 days of judicial custody.

So, the pathetic annual exercise of the state had a differentiator this time – Sharmila had some extended hours of freedom where she expressed about and broke down on her desire for freedom – she spent some time at the site of her protest where she began almost 14 years ago – she spent some time without the tube attached to her nose, something she has been with since November 2000 – she met people – she spoke and she interacted – and the whole world wrote about her freedom this time – because the extended hours gave us the direct access to her – one to one – reaching out,  speaking out.

Irom Sharmila-IEImage courtesy: Indian Express

In previous years, this window was not available, as without a court ruling freeing her of the charges of ‘attempted suicide’, the police would release her as one year would come to an end – only to meet the technical requirement of the law – the Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with ‘attempted suicide’ and has a jail term of one year – and then re-arrest her immediately.

This year, when the Sessions court of Manipur East ruled that Sharmila never said ‘fast-unto-death’ and freed her of charges under the Section 309 of the IPC, a Section that is set to be decriminalized by the Indian government, many of us thought the sense would prevail and the state would act with sanity.

But – but, the state is notorious by its stubbornness – it is one of the bottlenecks of our functional democracy – a democracy that has been able to survive and grow – we saw it in case of Dr. Binayak Sen – we saw it in case of Himanshu Kumar – we have seen it in many other cases – and there is no end to it in the near future – the re-arrest of Irom Sharmila reaffirms that.

The state’s pathetic ironies continue.


Yes, both, the pro- and anti- AFSPA debates have takers but what negative has happened and is happening due to the AFSPA – with many incidents including the November 2, 2000 Malom Massacre – the massacre that called Irom Sharmila, who was 28 then, to begin her protest fast-until-the AFSPA-repeal on the same day – must be accepted honestly by the state in order to come up with some better and ‘acceptable-to-most’ alternative – like has been the demand always – like has been the need always.

It is true some North-Eastern states like Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, and Manipur have deep-rooted insurgencies and terrorists there enjoy local ethnic support and survive by exploiting the anti-mainland India sentiments. The intense ethnic divide among the tribal groups has only exacerbated the crisis. They are fighting with the Union of India and they are fighting among themselves.

Tripura was the similar story until it got a sensible political leadership in Manik Sarkar, one of the few honest politicians the country has. The security apparatus of the Union of India and the local wing of the state’s politics can learn from Tripura’s experience to look for tools to adopt in handling and overcoming the insurgency. But, so far the condition remains volatile in other crisis hotbeds of the North-East India.

Yes, the political mismanagement and apathy has been largely responsible for it. The whole North-Eastern region is still a largely disconnected landmass with poor infrastructure and almost no industries. The agrarian economy that has the potential to evolve into big-ticket industrial units has been neglected while bilateral trade with neighboring countries that has not much scope has been made the focus of the industrial policy on the North-East so far. The whole region doesn’t produce industrial materials except coal, petroleum products and minerals meant for internal consumption and cannot be exported. Also, there is not enough local talent to support if large-scale industrial units are brought in the region. The paradropping of industries exercise was one of the central reasons that led to the proliferation of insurgencies as the economy was centralized in few hands and the locals did not benefit.

And the hostilities still continue, in spite of the Government of India making serious efforts now. There is a separate ministry in existence for the North-East region for over a decade now. The average per-capita central assistance to the North-East is almost four times of the all India average, Rs. 683.94 Vs Rs. 2574.98, as was in the 10th Five Year Plan and the Special Category Status is to continue till 12th Plan.

But, the hostilities continue, as the crisis has been in making for years and will take time and tough measures handling the insurgents and safeguarding the interests of the common people. The anti-mainland sentiment is still very much there to be exploited by the insurgents.

The experience of the people from the mainland has been pretty bad there, especially in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. Hindi cinema was banned by an insurgent group in Manipur in 2000 and is still in force. Even the biopic on Mary Kom, the Manipuri icon of the contemporary times, starring a Hindi cinema actress and produced by a Mumbai based production house has not been allowed screening. Tens of thousands have been internally displaced and thousands have been killed in the ongoing insurgency.


The security establishment of the country does need special measures to deal with such hostile situations where the terrorists enjoy the ethnic support like is the case in Jammu & Kashmir.

But that never means allowing the security forces to go on rampage. And the AFSPA has seen many such cases – like some other draconian laws, used by the state regularly that put activists like Dr. Binayak Sen behind bars.

All such laws and special acts need to be scrutinized for the changes to be incorporated. The archaic laws need to be made contemporary. The special acts like the AFSPA need to come with enough of the stringent measures to set examples for the officers breaching the code or need to be replaced altogether with better and logical mechanisms that serve the purpose of the people as well as of the security needs of the state.

Yes, it is easier said than done. But nothing is easier in running the governments in an ethnically, religiously and culturally complex country like India that is also a functionally successful democracy. There are still many stakeholders who rightly feel left out of the process of democracy and the insurgents grow parasitic on the state and such stakeholders by exploiting the state’s apathy and the stakeholders’ frustration and such hostilities are there in the mainland India as well.

The state needs to behave when it acts with activists raising voices in democratic ways. They are our own people. They are from among us, speaking for their people, for us, and not for the insurgents.

The state needs to give space to the voices like Dr. Binayak Sen or Irom Sharmila in place of implicating them in silly cases under the draconian sections of the legal code. The wide support to these voices tells they represent for the millions who cannot speak or are not allowed to speak and the state must listen to them.

In place of forcing them in jails or in confined spaces, like has been done again with Irom Sharmila.

See the fallacy of the pathetic ironies – the law the Indian government feels is illogical and is to be done away with as explicitly told to the nation – has been used once again by one of its state governments to arrest Irom Sharmila, now a global icon of the Gandhian way of protest – by a Congress-run state government the chief minister of which invited Irom Sharmila to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha election on Congress ticket as she said after her release this time.

And see the irony holding-up the system – a judge released her quashing the ‘attempt to suicide’ charges as the state could not prove if Irom Sharmila had ever said so (fast-unto-death) – and she certainly didn’t say so since her release on Wednesday evening.

Even then, another judge found her case fit to be filed under the Section 309 of the IPC – under the charge of ‘attempt to commit suicide’ – the same IPC Section that is soon going to be decriminalized by the Government of India.

There was no need to arrest her this time or charge her for ‘attempted suicide’ and remand her to the judicial custody.

Yes, as she refused medical checkup and any nutritional intake, the police was bound to act on concerns of her health, as the Manipur East court ruling ordered, but it could have been done without arresting and charging her.

But, there is no sanity still – it was just the fear of the court order to come clean on acting in time on her health worries the police response told us – the way the police almost dragged her, as the whole nation saw in the news broadcasts, even if acting on the pretext of ‘preventing her health from deteriorating further’ – even if she was screaming – was shameful and utterly disgusting – and is to be condemned.

NDTV video: Irom Sharmila, shouting, forcibly removed from fast venue by cops

Irom Sharmila CollageImage courtesy: NDTV

Yes, the chores of the state’s pathetic ironies continue.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –

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