Irom Chanu Sharmila
|Irom Chanu Sharmila|
14 March 1972 |
Kongpal, Imphal, Manipur, India
|Occupation||Civil rights activist, political activist, poet|
|Known for||Hunger strike against Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958|
|Parent(s)||Irom c Nanda (father)
Irom Ongbi Sakhi (mother)
Irom Chanu Sharmila (born 14 March 1972), also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur" or "Mengoubi" ("the fair one") is a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. On 2 November 2000, she began a hunger strike which is still ongoing. Having refused food and water for more than 500 weeks, she has been called "the world's longest hunger striker". On International Women’s Day, 2014 she was voted the top woman icon of India by MSN Poll.
In 2014 two parties asked her to stand in the national election, but she declined. She was then denied the right to vote as a person confined in jail cannot vote according to law. On 19 August 2014 a court ordered her release from custody, subject to there being no other grounds for detention. She was re-arrested on 22 August 2014 on similar charges to those for which she was acquitted, and remanded in judicial custody for 15 days. Amnesty International has declared her a prisoner of conscience.
Beginning of fast
On 2 November 2000, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop. The incident, known as the "Malom Massacre", was allegedly committed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state. The victims included Leisangbam Ibetombi, a 62-year old woman, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Bravery Award winner.
Sharmila, who was 28 at the time, began to fast in protest of the killing, taking neither food nor water. As her brother Irom Singhajit Singh recalled, "It was a Thursday. Sharmila used to fast on Thursdays since she was a child. That day she was fasting too. She has just continued with her fast."
Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an "attempt to commit suicide", which was unlawful under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at that time, and was later transferred to judicial custody. However, Amnesty International and the World Medical Association both dispute that a hunger strike is equivalent to suicide as hunger strikers "generally hope and intend to survive". Her health deteriorated rapidly, and nasogastric intubation was forced on her in order to keep her alive while under arrest.
Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year since her hunger strike began under IPC section 309. The law declares that a person who "attempts to commit suicide ... shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year [or with fine, or with both]."
By 2004, Sharmila had become an "icon of public resistance." Following her procedural release on 2 October 2006 Irom Sharmila Chanu went to Raj Ghat, New Delhi, which she said was "to pay floral tribute to my ideal, Mahatma Gandhi." Later that evening, Sharmila headed for Jantar Mantar for a protest demonstration where she was joined by students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens. 30 women protested naked in support of Sharmila in front of the Assam Rifles headquarters. They held a banner saying "Indian Army rape us" and all of them were imprisoned for three months.
On 6 October, she was re-arrested by the Delhi police for attempting suicide and was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she wrote letters to the Prime Minister, the President, and the Home Minister. At this time, she met and won the support of Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Laureate and human rights activist, who promised to take up Sharmila's cause at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In October 2011, the Manipur Pradesh All India Trinamool Congress announced their support for Sharmila and called on party chief Mamata Banerjee to help repeal the AFSPA. The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) (CPI ML) also stated its support for her and for repeal of AFSPA, calling for nationwide agitation. In November, at the end of the eleventh year of her fast, Sharmila again called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to repeal the law. On 3 November 100 women formed a human chain in Ambari to show support for Sharmila, while other civil society groups staged a 24-hour fast in a show of solidarity.
She has not met her mother since the start of the fast as seeing her mother's anguish may break her resolve. She said "The day AFSPA is repealed I will eat rice from my mother's hand."
Political offers and vote on 2014 Lok Sabha election
In 2014, Irom Sharmila was offered to contest in Lok Sabha polls from Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party separately. She was offered to contest by Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh for Indian National Congress. On which she said "The chief minister made a surprise visit last month and requested me to join the Congress so that the party can jointly take up the issue of repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), but I did not give any response to his offer."
She was also offered to contest Lok Sabha polls by Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan from Inner Manipur under his party's banner through Just Peace Foundation (JPF), a solidarity group supporting Sharmila's struggle. But on 14 February, Sharmila rejected Aam Aadmi Party's offer to contest the Lok Sabha polls and said that "Though I support AAP, I rejected the offer as I'm just a protester not a politician." She also showed her moral support to the party and said "If I am allowed to vote, I will cast my vote in favour of the AAP which I am confident will restore the rule of democracy." 
On the offers on contesting Lok Sabha polls, a JPF trustee said that "Politics is not a cup of her (Sharmila) tea and she even called politicians 'shameless people' for failing to scrap AFSPA despite their countless promises."
On 2014, she showed willingness to cast her vote and submitted an application expressing her desire and she mentioned that "I never voted as I had lost faith in democracy, but the rise of the new anti-corruption party, Aam Aadmi Party, changed my thinking." But she was not allowed to cast her vote as per the law. An Election Commission official explained the reason stating that under Section 62 (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a person confined in jail cannot vote.
Current legal battle
Irom Sharmila continued to face the charge of attempted suicide. She was held in enforced isolation which the National Human Rights Commission of India recommended for the Manipur government to immediately stop.
A summon was issued for Sharmila Chanu to appear for trial on 19 December 2013.
This is a trial at the Delhi Patiala Court based on an FIR issued by the Delhi Police for an arrest made on 6 October 2006. The charge sheet was presented in September 2012 alleging an attempt to commit suicide by Sharmila on 6 October 2006 in Delhi, the Hon Mr Justice Akash Jain Metropolitan Magistrate Delhi Patiala Court presiding. There have been fifteen court summonses and production warrants for this trial. The last production warrant is for 5 & 6 June 2015. It appears likely that she will be presented. No character witnesses have come forward so the only witness will be Irom Sharmlia Chanu speaking in her own defence. Sentence will probably be given the same day. If she is found guilty she will be released back to custody in Imphal where she is charged with attempt to commit suicide based on an FIR of 23 January 2015 pertaining to an attempt to commit suicide near the women's market Imphal on that day no charge sheet has been drawn up for that charge in Imphal as yet. She also has a second trial previous verdict stayed by the Manipur High Court currently at the Manipur High Court regarding an attempt to commit suicide charge in August 2014. If she is found not-guilty at the trial in Delhi it does not set a precedent for any of the other trials. Each trial is conducted on its merits. For the trial in Delhi the prosecution brought three days of witness evidence plus medical reports. So far for the trials in Imphal the prosecution have yet to present any evidence and the Defence laywers who refuse to take instruction from Sharmila refuse to allow her to present a defence seeking to have all charges dropped and force feeding to end forthwith. The actual law attempt to commit suicide has been deemed an imperial british colonial throwback law which the Republic of India has now decided to repeal. When the law is repealed there will be no farther grounds on which to detain Sharmila and therefore not legal power to force feed her. However laws are not usually made retroactive. Therefore she should not be freed until all the current trials end. At present there are three separate active trials, one at the Delhi Patiala Court under the Metnropolitan Magistrate, one with the Chief Judicial Magistrate Imphal West, Uripok Cheirap Court Imphal and one with the Manipur High Court (hearing an appeal against the District & Sessions Court Judgement whose verdict was stayed awaiting Defence response). The only trial to have been completed without farther appeal was the judgement of the Judicial Magistrate First Class Imphal East, Lamphel Court Complex Imphal, HH Mr Justice Wisdom Kamodang who rejected the Defence Counsel's arguments inter alia that there were never any grounds for arrest under the attempt to commit suicide legilslatio, that the court system was guilty of putting Sharmila under double jeopardy (trying her for the same offence repeatedly - she is being charged with separate crimes on separate dates in separate jurisdicitons), that force feeding Sharmila is a form of torture and must be stopped. The Magistrate ruled only that if the police wanted to bring a citizen to trial they needed to provide evidence and until and unless they do so there would be no trial and that case was dismissed for that reason alone. Obviously there is more to it than this. But this should be the minimum that anyone seeking information should be allowed access to.
Since the maximum sentence for attempted suicide is one year and she had been held for more than six years she was told the case will be settled if she pled guilty. However, she maintained that she had not attempted suicide, but was protesting in the "most non-violent way, like Mahatma Gandhi." This references the trial at the Delhi Patiala Court.
On 19 August 2014, a court in Imphal ordered that Sharmila should be released from custody "if not required in any other case", stating that the prosecution had "failed miserably" to demonstrate that Sharmila had intended to commit suicide through fasting. This refers to the judgement of the Distict and Sessions Court
On 22 August 2014 she was again arrested, once more charged with attempted suicide, and remanded to judicial custody for 15 days by a magistrate. This references the trial which was completed after various threats and punish beatings failed to intimidate the judge JM1C HH Mr Justice Wisdom Kamodang verdict was given on 22 January 2015. She was then re-arrested in a different area of Imphal and so the FIR was presented to the CJM Imphal West who has detained her on fortnightly judicial remands. Technically under Indian Law the trial doesn't begin until the prosecution presents a charge sheet which contains the FIR, wtiness list and usually some kind of evidence. Until the trial in Delhi began in Autumn 2012 the police used to present an FIR annually and then a local judge would detain her for a year on judicial remand and that appears to be the option they have reverted to for the third trial referred to in the explanation above with the CJM Imphal West, Uripok Cheirap Court.
On 28 March 2015 a charge sheet was framed at the court of the CJM Imphal West so the third trial has now begun formally. A legal aid advocate Mx Pravabati Devi was appointed for the defence. It is not clear from whom she is taking instruction.
From 27 September 2014 to 26 April 2015 Irom Sharmila was chosen as one of 176 prisoners of conscience whose portraits were made up of 1.2 million lego pieces by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei, reassembled by 90 volunteers. His intention was for visitors to walk all over the images in the Trace section at Alcatraz. As of March 2015 she had received 5,660 postcards in three boxes from visitors to the Yours Truly section of the Alcatraz Exhibition site. Although living in neighbouring countries the only place they could meet was in an island off San Francisco Bay the long way around the world 
Sharmila 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". She shared the award with Lenin Raghuvanshi of People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, a northeastern Indian human rights organization.
In 2010, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission. Later that year, she won the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, which came with a cash award of 5,100,000 rupees, and the Sarva Gunah Sampannah "Award for Peace and Harmony" from the Signature Training Centre.
Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC) was launched in the year 2011 to highlight struggle of Irom Sharmila. This campaign run many activities where support was generated by people from India and abroad. SSSC organised awareness activities, documentary screenings and panel discussions, public demonstrations to highlight cause of Irom Sharmila. It also submitted memorandums to government and met with human rights commission for Repeal AFSPA. 
On 5 November 2014, Irom Sharmila entered in 15th year of her hunger strike. To mark the day, an event Asian Solidarity was organised jointly by Forum Asia (Thailand), 18 May Memorial Foundation (Korea) and Just Peace Foundation in Imphal Manipur. Hunger strike was organised at more than 16 places in Imphal itself and hundreds of people participated. Gwangju laureates were participated to show their solidarity. These laureates included Dr. Binayak Sen & Lenin from India, Wahid from Indonesia, Kim geo from Korea and Sushil from Nepal. Special invitation was extended to Amit Sen Gupta (a delhi based journalist and faculty at IIMC), Ravi Nitesh (a human rights activist and freelance writer, core member in Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign) and Harsh Dobhal.
Works based on her life
Deepti Priya Mehrotra's Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur details Sharmila's life and the political background of her fast. IronIrom: Two Journeys : Where the Abnormal is Normal (2012, with Minnie Vaid and Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh)
Ojas S V, a theater artist from Pune, performed a mono-play titled Le Mashale ("Take the Torch"), based on Irom Sharmila's life and struggle. It is an adaptation of Meira Paibi (Women bearing torches), a drama written by Malayalam playwright Civic Chandran. The play was performed at several venues in several Indian states. Human rights activist and writer Ravi Nitesh has written dozens of articles about struggle of Irom Sharmila and the need to repeal of AFSPA. In his interview with CIVICUS, he told that role of local working groups and NGOs in AFSPA imposed region is very much of importance. He has met Sharmila many times and penned his experiences in many news portals and blogs. "Sharmila and I worked together on a study lead by Justice Suresh of the Human Rights Law Network. She was such an enthusiastic person. One week after we finished this study, there was a massacre where 10 innocent people were killed. Then she took a stand, knowing that there was no alternative left but to put her own life in the line of fire. It has been 13 years now", recalls Babloo Loitongbom.
- Fragrance of Peace (2010)
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- "Irom Sharmila awarded Rabindranath Tagore peace award". dnaindia.com. 12 September 2010. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
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