5 things to know about Irom Sharmila for millennials

For those whom she fought for, the Iron Lady was always Mengoubi, the fair one, the symbol of Manipur's struggle against AFSPA.

 |  3-minute read |   09-08-2016
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Irom Chanu Sharmila today, on August 9, 2016 ended her 16-year-long hunger strike, setting the internet and India's political landscape on fire. She says she will contest elections independently and wants to be the chief minister of Manipur.

Headline of the day aside, who really is Irom Sharmila and what has been her passive, non-violent resistance to India's Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act all about?

Who is Irom Sharmila?

Irom Chanu Sharmila is a 44-year-old civil and political rights activist from Manipur. She had been on a hunger strike for 16 years, the longest hunger strike in the world, which she finally ended on August 9, 2016.

She has been arrested every year on the charge of attempt to suicide.

Why did she fast?

On November 1, 2000, an insurgent group bombed a column of Assam Rifles (an Indian paramilitary force operating in the state) in Malom Tulihal Makha. The next day, the battalion allegedly gunned down 10 innocent civilians at a bus stand in Malom.

Activists later called the incident the "Malom massacre".

Also read: Will Irom Sharmila join BJP?

This prompted Irom Sharmila to start fasting against the draconian law, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which allows the Army to kill, arrest anyone with impunity in "disturbed areas".

On November 4, Irom Sharmila started her fast, to be ended only when AFSPA is repealed in Manipur.

The world soon came to call her the "Iron Lady of Manipur", but for those whom she fought for, she was always "Mengoubi", the fair one, the strong one, symbol of Manipur's struggle against the state's armed repression.

Also read:  Irom Sharmila ending her fast won't stop AFSPA protests in Manipur

Interestingly, according to leaked Wikileaks cables in 2011, "... authorities have committed numerous human rights violations under the AFSPA. "Governor [S.S.] Sidhu admitted to ConGen that the Assam Rifles in particular are perpetrators of violations."

irom-embed_080916071551.jpg Irom Sharmila broke down when she ended her 16 year fast. Photo: ANI

What does she eat?

Irom Sharmila renounced food and water for her fast, but the government, owing to the sensitive nature of the subject, has been "force-feeding" her for years. An Indian Express report from 2014 says she's been fed cerelac, juices like Appy, Horlicks and protein shakes, totalling to 1,600 calories a day.

Doctors say that when needed, tablets or vitamins are crushed and mixed with her food.

Also read: The very lonely and very long battle of Irom Chanu Sharmila

How has she kept herself busy all these years?

Fasting for 16 years is a long time for someone to spend alone, but Irom has soldiered on with help from her pets, a pair of guinea pigs she calls Thoi.

She has no internet, cellphone or television, but what she does have are letters and mementos from her supporters.

Support and awards:

Irom's struggle against ASFPA has garnered international attention, which has resulted in some scrutiny of the draconian law.

Among others, she was awarded the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which is given to "an outstanding person or group, active in the promotion and advocacy of peace, democracy and human rights".

In 2013, the human rights non-profit Amnesty International declared her a "Prisoner of Conscience," and said she "is being held solely for a peaceful expression of her beliefs".

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