Irom Sharmila Chanu has been waging war against the Indian State since 2000; her only weapon has been fasting for the last 14 years
Irom Sharmila Chanu, variously referred to as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ and ‘The World’s Longest Hunger Striker,’ is an activist and poetess from the northeast Indian state of Manipur. She started her hunger strike on November 2, 2000, when security forces posted in the state to quell insurgency shot 10 unarmed civilians. Ever since that day, Ir
om has not eaten a thing though she has been force-fed through a tubular nasal contraption after she was arrested on November 5, 2000, for attempting to commit suicide.
Her arrest has since become a routine annual affair as the Indian State does not have any other ground to charge her with. Irom has been fighting for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), an act enforced on Manipur in 1958 to provide immunity to security forces battling insurgents and rebels. The immunity provisions, rights activists say, are routinely misused by forces to cover up human rights abuses, torture and illegal killings.
Irom has been interned in the security ward at J.N. Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal, the state capital of Manipur for almost the entire tenure of her fast. Her enforced isolation, which the National Human Rights Commission of India has suggested be immediately stopped, continues. Irom has become an international Prisoner of Conscience as declared by Amnesty International, the rights organization. She has been approached by several political parties including the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and the All India Trinamool Congress to join politics and fight elections but she has refused them all.
A recipient of the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, awarded to “an outstanding person or group, active in the promotion and advocacy of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights,” she also won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission in 2010. In a rare honour for a dissenter against the Indian state, Pune University, in 2011, announced a degree course scholarship programme for 39 Manipuri girls in honour of Irom ‘s 39 years of age. Her struggle has inspired literary works, plays and numerous documentaries on Indian and international networks.