Happy Birthday to the Iron Lady of Manipur – Irom Chanu Sharmila

Irom Chanu Sharmila is an Indian civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. She is known for the 16 years of hunger strike she underwent for abolishing the Armed Forces Act. Let us wish this Iron Lady a very happy birthday.

Irom Sharmila was born on 14 March 1972 and grew up in Manipur, one of the Seven Sister States in India’s northeast, which has suffered from an insurgency for decades. From 2005 to 2015 about 5,500 people died in Manipur from political violence.

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, to arrest people, and to use deadly force if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is acting against the state.

She was already involved in local peace movements regarding 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. The incident, known as the “Malom Massacre”, was allegedly committed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state. Sharmila, who was 28 at the time of the Malom Massacre, began to fast in protest. Her primary demand to the Indian government has been the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and rearrested every year since her hunger strike began. By 2004, Sharmila had become an “icon of public resistance.” She only met her mother once during the fast, as she believed that seeing her mother’s anguish might have broken her resolve. She said, “The day AFSPA is repealed I will eat rice from my mother’s hand.”

On 26 July 2016, Irom Sharmila, who had been on a hunger strike since 2000, announced that she would end her fast on 9 August 2017. She also announced that she would contest the next state elections in Manipur. The objective of her fast and entering politics is to fight for the removal of AFSPA as she has asserted “I will join politics and my fight will continue.” In October 2016, she launched a political party named Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance.

On Thursday 17 August 2017, Irom Sharmila married her British partner Desmond Anthony Bellarnine Coutinho in Kodaikanal, a hill station in TamilNadu. On Sunday 12 May 2019, at the age of 47, she gave birth to twin daughters named Nix Shakhi and Autumn Tara.

She has been awarded many accolades for her activism, which includes a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission, Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, Mayilamma Award. 

-Staff Reporter

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