On the eve of human rights activist Irom Sharmila calling off her 16 year-long hunger strike against the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur, we take a closer look at The Iron Lady of Manipur. She might be an icon and legend, but she never wanted to be a goddess, she has said in earlier interviews, as the The Indian Express reports. She never wanted to be worshipped as an icon for human rights. She just wanted AFSPA removed. That demand has not been met, but Sharmila says she plans to continue her fight on a different platform, looking at contesting elections next year in Manipur.
- A month before she started her fast, Sharmila had been extremely disturbed by the account of a woman, who had been raped in her own home by two CRPF personnel as two other CRPF men held her husband down outside the house.
- The actual trigger for her fast arrived on 2 November 2000, when Sharmila learned that Assam Rifles personnel had shot and killed 10 people in Malom. According to the website iromsharmilachanu.wordpress.com, the victims included a 60-year-old woman and a 17-year-old winner of the National Child Bravery Award.
- Though she officially began her fast on 5 November, 2000, the idea for it had come four days earlier, during her ritual fast on Thursday – the day of the Malom massacre. She told The Indian Express: “I saw photographs of the dead bodies drenched in blood the next day, and never broke the fast — I was so upset that I didn’t eat. My colleagues told me to take my fasting from outside the bedroom and into the public sphere — that was November 5. So I went to get my mother’s blessing and then I left.
- For 16 years, since she was 28 years old, Irom Sharmila, now 44, has been living as an undertrial prisoner in the special ward of Imphal’s Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, and force fed through her nose with a Ryles tube. According to The Indian Express, the tube has become one of the symbols of Manipur’s fight against AFSPA
- Sharmila’s fiancé is Desmond Coutinho, a Goa-born British citizen. Their relationship has not been accepted by either her family or by Manipuris in general, according to The Indian Express.
- Trapped in the hospital, under house arrest, Irom Sharmila apparently took comfort from Coutinho’s letters and keepsakes, and her two guinea pigs.
All eyes now on the court hearing in Imphal on Tuesday, August 9.
Feature Image Credit: propelsteps.wordpress.com