Irom Chanu Sharmila

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Irom Chanu Sharmila
Irom Chanu Sharmila.jpg
Born (1972-03-14) 14 March 1972 (age 43)
Kongpal, Imphal, Manipur, India
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Meitei
Occupation Civil rights activist, political activist, poet
Known for Hunger strike against Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act
Parent(s) Irom c Nanda (father)
Irom Ongbi Sakhi (mother)

Irom Chanu Sharmila (born 14 March 1972),[1] also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur" or "Mengoubi" ("the fair one")[2] is a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. On 2 November 2000,[3] 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".[4] On International Women’s Day, 2014 she was voted the top woman icon of India by MSN Poll.[5][6]

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.[7][8][9] 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.[10] Amnesty International has declared her a prisoner of conscience.


Sharmila grew up and lives in Manipur, one of the Seven Sister States in India's northeast that are geographically, ethnically, and linguistically distinct from India, and has suffered from Insurgency and intra-tribal warfare, including terrorism and government-sponsored violence, for decades; from 2005 to 2015 about 5,500 people died from political violence.[11] In 1958, the Indian government passed a law, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 that applies to just the seven states and grants security forces the power to search properties without a warrant, and to arrest people, and to use deadly force if there is "reasonable suspicion" that a person is acting against the state; a similar Act applies to Jammu & Kashmir.[11]

She was already involved in local peace movements with regard to human rights abuses in Manipur when, 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.[12] The incident, known as the "Malom Massacre",[13][14] was allegedly committed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state.[15][16] The victims included Leisangbam Ibetombi, a 62-year-old woman, and 18-year-old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Bravery Award winner .

The fast and responses[edit]

Sharmila, who was 28 at the time of Malom Massacre, began to fast in protest.[12] Her primary demand to the Indian government has been the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).[3][12][17] She began her fast in Malom on 5 November, and vowed not to eat, drink, comb her hair or look in a mirror until AFSPA was repealed.[18]

Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an "attempt to commit suicide",[3] 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".[19][20] Her health deteriorated rapidly, and nasogastric intubation was forced on her from November 21 in order to keep her alive while under arrest.[4][18]

Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year since her hunger strike began[17] 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]."[21]

By 2004, Sharmila had become an "icon of public resistance."[15] 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.[12] 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.[12][22]

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.[12] 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.[12]

In 2011, she invited anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare to visit Manipur,[23] and Hazare sent two representatives to meet with her.[24]

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.[25] The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) (CPI ML) also stated its support for her and for repeal of AFSPA, calling for nationwide agitation.[26] In November, at the end of the eleventh year of her fast, Sharmila again called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to repeal the law.[27] 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.[28]

In 2011 the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC) was launched to highlight Sharmila's struggle[29] and in December 2011, Pune University announced a scholarship program for 39 female Manipuri students to take degree courses in honour of Irom Sharmila Chanu's 39 years of age.[30]

She has only met her mother once 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."[31][32]

In March 2013 she was put on trial again for attempted suicide.[33] The prosecution's case was closed in June 2015 and Sharmila was scheduled to testify in August 2015.[33] In November 2013 she gave an interview to NDTV in which she discussed tensions with her organisation, the Just Peace Foundation, in which she claimed that members had made honour killing death threats against her due to her relationship with Desmond Coutinho, a British citizen, and complained that the foundation was preventing her from giving prize money she had been awarded to people or causes she wanted to help. The foundation replied that her imprisonment had made communications difficult, and that NDTV was trying to rouse hatred between Sharmila and the organisation.[34][35]

International attention[edit]

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".[36] She shared the award with Lenin Raghuvanshi of People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, a northeastern Indian human rights organisation.[36]

In 2009, she was awarded the first Mayillama Award of the Mayilamma Foundation "for achievement of her nonviolent struggle in Manipur".[37]

In 2010, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission.[38] 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,[39] and the Sarva Gunah Sampannah "Award for Peace and Harmony" from the Signature Training Centre.[40]

In 2013 Amnesty International declared her a Prisoner of conscience, and said she "is being held solely for a peaceful expression of her beliefs."[41]

Works based on her life[edit]

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.[42] 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.[43][44]

See also[edit]


  • Fragrance of Peace (2010)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Mehrotra, Deepti Priya (2012). "The Making of an Activist". Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur. Penguin Books India. ISBN 9788184751536. 
  2. ^ Rituparna Chatterjee (20 April 2011). "Spot the Difference: Hazare vs. Irom Sharmila". Sinlung. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Bagchi, Suvojit (19 September 2006). "Manipur woman's marathon fast". BBC News, Manipur. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Andrew Buncombe (4 November 2010). "A decade of starvation for Irom Sharmila". The Independent. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "Irom Sharmila is top woman icon: MSN poll". 11 March 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  6. ^ "Irom Sharmila voted MSN poll’s Top Woman Icon in India.". 20 March 2014. Archived from the original on 21 March 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  7. ^ "Irom Sharmila not allowed to vote in Manipur". 17 April 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  8. ^ "Irom Sharmila Chanu's moral support to AAP". The Times Of India. 14 March 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  9. ^ "Irom Sharmila not allowed to vote in Manipur EC official says Under Section 62 (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a person confined in jail cannot vote". Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "Irom Chanu Sharmila charged with attempted suicide, sent to judicial custody again". The Times of India. 22 August 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Krishna Pokharel for the Wall Street Journal. Jan 7, 2015. Indian Activist Presses 14-Year Hunger Strike to Protest Abuses; Court Postpones Decision Whether Irom Sharmila Chanu Should Be Charged Again
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Shoma Chaudhury (5 December 2009). "Irom And The Iron In India’s Soul". Tehelka. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Anjuman Ara Begum (3 November 2010). "AFSPA and Unsolved massacres in Manipur". Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  14. ^ Imphal Free Press (2 November 2013). "Malom Massacre horror relived 13 years later". Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Nilanjana S. Roy (8 February 2011). "Torchbearers for Victims in a Violent Land". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Rahul Pathak (6 August 2004). "Why Malom is a big reason for Manipur anger against Army Act". The Indian Express. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "Manipur Fasting Woman Re-arrested". BBC News. 9 March 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  18. ^ a b Mehrotra, Deepti Priya (2009). Burning bright : Irom Sharmila and the struggle for peace in Manipur (2009 ed.). New Delhi: Penguin Books India. ISBN 9780143103691. 
  19. ^ "WMA Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers". Retrieved 14 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "Document - India: Government of Manipur must release Irom Sharmila Chanu". Amnesty International. Retrieved 14 February 2015. 
  21. ^ "Section 309 in The Indian Penal Code". 
  22. ^ Hanjabam, Shukhdeba Sharma (17 January 2008). "The Meitei upsurge in Manipur". Asia Europe Journal 6 (1): 157–169. 
  23. ^ Vidya Subramaniam (28 August 2011). "Irom Sharmila urges Anna to visit Manipur". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  24. ^ "Highlights of Anna Hazare's interview to NDTV". NDTV. 13 September 2011. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  25. ^ "Mamata's help sought for raising voice against AFSPA". The Times of India. 17 October 2011. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. 
  26. ^ "CPI (ML) to show solidarity to Sharmila with nation-wide agitation". Imphal Free Press via Kanglaonline. 29 September 2011. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  27. ^ "PM should realize I am struggling for people: Irom". The Times of India. Times News Network. 4 November 2011. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  28. ^ "Civil society groups in state back Irom's cause". The Times of India. Times News Network. 3 November 2011. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. 
  29. ^ Staff, The Hindu. Updated October 3, 2011 [1]
  30. ^ "Scholarship for Manipuri girl students in Sharmila's honour". The Times of India. 10 December 2011. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. 
  31. ^ "A Life-Affirming Fast". Economic & Political Weekly. 23 March 2013. 
  32. ^ Sarkar, S. (18 January 2013). "The Iron Lady of Manipur". Indian Journal of Gender Studies 20 (1): 147–151. doi:10.1177/0971521512465965. 
  33. ^ a b "Court to record Irom Sharmila's statement on August 11". Economic Times. 6 June 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  34. ^ Alok Pandey for NDTV November 07, 2013 Faced 'honour killing' threats for relationship with foreigner, says activist Irom Sharmila
  35. ^ "JPF threatens legal action against NDTV". The Sangai Express. 9 November 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  36. ^ a b "Gwangju Prize for Human Rights". 18 May Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  37. ^ Sobhapati Samom (1 March 2010). "Kerala activists promise support to Irom Sharmila". Assam Tribune. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  38. ^ "Human rights defender awarded for lifetime achievement". Asian Human Rights Commission. 29 January 2010. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  39. ^ "Irom Sharmila awarded Rabindranath Tagore peace award". 12 September 2010. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  40. ^ "Sharmila Conferred Peace Award". 27 December 2010. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  41. ^ Manash Pratim Gohai (2 October 2013). "Irom Sharmila Chanu must be immediately released, Amnesty India says". Times Of India. Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  42. ^ Laxmi Murthy (December 2009). "Reluctant heroine: 'Burning Bright' by Deepti Priya Mehrotra". Himal South Asian. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  43. ^ T. Saravanan (11 February 2011). "For a noble cause". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012. 
  44. ^ Shalini Umachandran (12 February 2011). "Single act that captures a dozen wounds of Manipur". The Times of India. Times News Network. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.