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Move to decriminalise IPC Section 309 hailed
 IMPHAL, Dec 12 – Family members, human rights activists and lawyers in Manipur have appreciated the Central Government’s move to decriminalise “attempt to suicide” by deleting Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code from the statute book, which will pave the way for the release of human rights defender Irom Chanu Sharmila, who has been on hunger strike for the past 15 years.

 Sharmila, who has been on hunger strike since November 2000, and is force-fed, is ritually arrested, freed and rearrested on charge of attempting to commit suicide, while imprisonment for the offence may extend even to one year. AFSPA provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot at sight and arrest anybody without a warrant.

“Personally I welcome the move, but we’ve to wait and watch unless the final amendment comes into force,” says human rights activist, Advocate Khaidem Mani, who had appeared on behalf of human rights defender Irom Sharmila in a recent court case against Sharmila and argued that Sharmila was not attempting to commit suicide, but protesting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA) 1958.

The Government has in the meantime decided to decriminalise “attempt to suicide” by deleting Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code from the statute book.

Stating this in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said the Government had decided to drop Section 309 from the IPC after 18 States and four Union Territories backed the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in this regard.

Sharing a similar sentiment, Onil Kshetrimayum, a key functionary of the Human Rights Alert, a rights group in Manipur said, “Obviously we welcome the move. I think the Government has started to realise the real face of democracy. But we have to be cautious till the final steps come up”, he opined.

According to Section 309 of the IPC, “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards commission of such offence, shall be punished for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both”. But here in Manipur, a human rights defender Irom Chanu Sharmila, who is on a fast unto death agitation demanding repeal of the controversial AFSPA has been detained in judicial custody since the last 15 years under IPC 309.

Reacting to the move, elder brother of Sharmila, Irom Shinghajit said, “I think it is a positive step. But we are not sure whether the authority tries to replace it with another Act or law in its place. I think we cannot expect much unless the AFSPA is totally removed from the region.”

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