11 Years of Hunger: Irom Sharmila, the “Iron Lady of Manipur”

Irom Sharmila
Featured Reader SubmissionPolitics 18 Comments

There are Women You Should Know all over the world and luckily we have friends in every corner of the globe who can tell us about these dynamic women. This remarkable story about civil rights activist Irom Sharmila comes to us from India, via our friend, Gautam K.

The Iron Lady of Manipur

by Gautam K

Irom Chanu Sharmila, born March 14, 1972, is a political and civil rights activist, poet, and journalist from Manipur, India. She has been on a hunger strike since November 2, 2000, to protest against the misuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 (AFSPA) by the paramilitary forces.

The Indian Parliament passed the AFSPA in 1958 in the states, which they considered as “disturbed areas”. Her decision to fast came after 10 civilians were allegedly shot dead by the paramilitary forces (Assam Rifles) at a bus stop in Malom, a small town in Manipur, on November 2, 2000. Among the ones tragically killed was Sinam Chandramani, a national child bravery award winner in 1988.

Irom Sharmila decided to go on a hunger strike on the same day as the killings, demanding that the Indian government repeal the law to prevent any such killings. This law still continues to be allegedly misused for extrajudicial executions, torture, and forced disappearances in around 7 North Eastern states in the country. On the third day of Irom Sharmila’s strike, she was arrested and charged with attempting to commit suicide. Since then, she has been force fed through nasogastric intubation and has been constantly arrested and released.

Jantar Mantar

Unfortunately, at that time, Irom Sharmila’s crusade against this draconian law didn’t gather much publicity from the media outside the state, mainly because it is from the North Eastern part of the country. The government of India has always been accused of step-motherly treatment towards the states and suppressing the media from reporting any atrocities that take place in that state. Much as they tried, the police and the government couldn’t break Irom Sharmila’s spirit.  Every time she was released, she would go on a hunger strike and get rearrested. Eventually, Irom Sharmila’s efforts began to get recognized by the media in other parts of the country in 2004 and she became an icon of public resistance. On October 6, 2006, after a procedural release, she gathered human rights activists along with other concerned citizens in Delhi at Jantar Mantar. She was promptly arrested by the authorities for attempted suicide and admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She wrote to the Prime Minister, Home Minister, and President requesting them to at least modify the AFSPA, if not repeal it. However, there wasn’t much response from the government.

Irom Sharmila got the attention of Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2003, who promised to take up the issue at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The North East Network, a woman’s organization based in Guwahati, recognized Irom’s work and nominated her for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights from South Korea in 2007 and the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize in 2010 by the New Delhi-based IIPM.

In the last few years, a lot of Indian politicians and members of the European parliament have written to the Indian government demanding a modification of the AFSPA. Irom has also received political support from the Janata Dal Party, which has agreed to aggressively campaign against the law. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Law Minister V. Moilly have supported a more humane act in the state, there hasn’t been much progress in enacting one.

Today, Irom Sharmila is the world’s longest hunger striker, not having consumed food or water for over 11 years. She continues to fight and has vowed to continue her strike until the law is at least modified.

The author of this story, Gautam K, is a creative and content writer developing training materials for English language organizations and educational institutions in India. He is also an amateur music composer.

For further references and information on Irom Sharmila and AFSPA


  • payal mathur

    Inspiring story!

  • Shwetha

    wake up women! It’s time to go!

  • Ruth

    Great piece!

  • Paul

    Thanks Gautam Rajan for letting us know about a great lady.

  • Rubin

    a glimpse into india. Well done Gautam

  • Maria

    Good reading Gautam. Never heard of her before. Why is nobody doing anything about it?

    • Desmond Coutinho

      The main campaign for now the only one proposed by her office is to write her to stand for the 2014 elections on a single issue thus forming de facto the Anti-AFSPA League. Then in 2017 it will again be up to Manipuris to rid their land of AFSPA if they so wish by electing 31 MLAs to denotify disturbed area status from all of Manipur not just Imphal. The other efforts internationally two Special Raporteurs one for human rights defenders and one monitoring extrajudicial killings presented to the UNHRC in Spring urging India to repeal or amend the AFSPA, this was taken up by Slovakia (full repeal) and France (review for amendment). India has deferred its response to September 2012. As it wishes to be a permanent member of the Security Council part of whose remit is to enforce UN resolutions and treaties they might consider suggesting to their Army that the fun’s if not over, could be quite easily continued without the legal fig leaf. The army has never needed special protection for the killing or gang raping of tribals or dalits from minority groups in India and they are being a little precious in insisting they keep this colonial throwback. I tend not to have my comments published I am Sharmila’s Fiance. But you peeps seem so small brow no one will contact you to delete them. Small works.

      • Dejuisti

        Um, What?

  • Anne J.

    Incredible story. It’s a wonder she is still alive after all these years.

    • Desmond Coutinho

      The writer seemed to have summarized a wikipedia article and forgotten a key part that she has been fed artificially by naso-gastric intubation if you look at the pic you can see part of the tube. It is detachable but the part thru the oesophagus into the stomach is never removed. The only wonder is that they have not followed through on threats to assassinate blaming unstated medical complications. These peaked with half a dozen such threats from September 2010 to September 2011 the last from her brother who works full time for the local police commandoes.

      • Thia

        The writer does clearly state that she has been fed artificially by naso-gastric intubation, it’s in the third paragraph.

        • Desmond Coutinho

          Then it begs the question why would it be a wonder that she is still alive after all these years. She has also been described by the medical staff there as the best fed Indian in the State. I have taken advice from several doctors and there is no reason for her to have any medical problems especially if her diet and health are so completely under medical supervision. But as Thia you are not Anne J I guess you probably don’t wish to comment on why she Anne J thinks making her fortieth birthday is a wonder.

          • WYSK

            The commenters who took the time to read this story, to learn about Sharmila’s struggles and passion for a cause are entitled to question aspects of a story that is, most likely, new to them.

            While we welcome all opinions and strive to preserve an uncensored forum for questions and comments, we also value our readers far too much to have any one individual be directly insulting to them.

            While we appreciate your interest in our site and this story, please be advised that if you continue to make derogatory comments, your comments will be promptly removed.

          • Dejuisti

            You do understand that being forced fed by any means, whether they are medically sound or not, can lead to major complications? Anything artificially used to keep a human alive is potentially hazardous.

            Furthermore, you yourself also point out the continuous death threats, yes? You say it is a “wonder.. they” have not been “followed through.” I would say that sparks a thought or two of “wonder” about her still being alive “after all these years.”

          • Desmond Coutinho

            I apologize unreservedly to anyone who feels I have insulted them

  • shiney,arati,princi

    all d best… n v r with u… v r pryng 4 u…God bless u….:)

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