Global Times special correspondent in India: Li Bin; Global Times correspondent: Chen Xin
India’s well-known social activist Irom Sharmila on July 26 announced she will end her 16-year old hunger strike on August 9 and contest the assembly elections in her home state in 2017 as an independent candidate.
According to the Indian Express report on July 27, the 44-year-old Sharmila also plans to get married and have children. Speaking of reasons for giving up the hunger strike, she said to the Indian media: “Over these years, the Government has not been listening to our voices and has been suppressing our human rights movement.” She said she wants to join politics, so that her voice is heard by the central government.
Sharmila comes from the poor and backward state of Manipur in northeast India. Due to historical reasons, many militant groups demanding either separation or autonomy has been active in this area for a long time, and violent conflicts are frequent. In order to tighten the control of the area, the Indian Parliament passed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1958. The bill gives “preemptive rights” to the Indian armed forces— the army in the absence of any authorization, can arrest or shoot and kill anyone at will. Sharmila’s protests began in 2000. At that time, Sharmila herself witnessed the incident where soldiers shot dead 10 innocent civilians for no reason at a bus station in the outskirts of Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, including several teenagers and a 62-year-old woman.
In November of that year, Sharmila determined to follow the example of Mahatma Gandhi’s indefinite hunger strike. She refused to eat, drink, or even brush her teeth. Sharmila vowed that she would not eat anything until the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was repealed. A few days after the hunger strike began, Sharmila was arrested by the local police, and has since been detained in a hospital in Imphal. New York Times says that in India, fast unto death is considered as an act of suicide, and the law rules the hunger strike as illegal. Indian government charged Sharmila with hunger strike and attempting suicide, and she had been living under house arrest ever since. However, she defended herself in court saying: “I do not want to commit suicide, it is only a nonviolent struggle. I love life, but yearn for justice and peace”.
At the hospital, Sharmila insisted on cleaning her teeth with a dry cotton ball, not even letting the water wet her lips. Every 15 days, the Indian government would send someone to ask her if she would end the fast, and the answer was always negative. And every day, the nurses will force feed her through a tube in the nose. The nose-tube has become a symbol of Sharmila, she says with a smile, “the tube is an integral part of my body and my struggle”. She came to be known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur” because of this kind of civil disobedience. She is also the person who has fasted for the longest time in the world. In 2005, she was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.