Civil activist Irom Sharmila announced on Tuesday that she would end her 16-year long fast, demanding the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. Here's a look back at the story of the woman nicknamed the 'Iron Lady of Manipur'.
Sharmila began her fast in 2000
Growing up in Manipur, Sharmila bore witness to the intra-tribal warfare brought about by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Though she'd been involved in various peace protests before, it was a shooting that occurred in Malom, in which 10 people were killed, that prompted her to launch a fast-unto-death. She had also vowed not to comb her hair or look in the mirror until the government withdrew the act.
She was arrested for her protest
Three days after she started her strike, Sharmila was arrested by the police for attempting to commit suicide, which according to the Indian Penal Code at the time was considered an offense. She was later remanded in judicial custody and was force fed through her nose to keep her alive. She was not permitted to walk outside in daylight, a right that is usually granted to even serious offenders.
Her bravery has gained her public attention
Nicknamed 'Mengoubi', which translates to 'the fair one', Sharmila's actions have gained her the admiration of people from all over the world. The Independent called her 'the world's longest hunger striker', and she receives letters from supporters from various parts of the world who wish her well. There is even a book written about her life and a play inspired by her.
Awarded for activism
In 2010, she was awarded the Asian Human Rights Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management. She has also been given the Sarva Gunah Sampannah Award for Peace and Harmony, and in 2013 Amnesty International declared her a 'Prisoner of Conscience'.
No plan to slow down
Admitting that her 16-year long fight yielded no response from the government, she said she has her eyes set on politics. Her fiance Desmond Coutinho, who started writing to her after reading her biography, is a British-Indian of Goan origin. Though she plans to get married, her priority is to fight Manipuri polls and strive to repeal the act.