While most of us crib over even the slightest delay in our meal timings, there is a lady who fought strongly in silence by fasting for 16 years.
Irom Chanu Sharmila, fondly known as the ‘Iron Lady’ of Manipur ended her 16-year-long fast which she had kept to protest against AFSPA in her home state of Manipur. This turned out to be the longest fast in human history.
As the world’s longest hunger striker Irom Chanu Sharmila celebrates her 47th birthday today, here are some facts which you may not be aware of!
* Born and brought up in Manipur, Irom Chanu Sharmila has suffered from Insurgency and intra-tribal warfare, including terrorism and government-sponsored violence, for decades.
* She wanted to be a doctor but chose to be a civil rights activist to wage war against the armed forces special powers act (Afspa) that allegedly gives soldiers the “licence to kill”.
* She began her fast in the year 2000 in protest against ‘Malom Massacre’. It so happened that ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur. It was allegedly committed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state.
* Her fast didn’t just include refraining from eating or drinking. She also refrained from combing her hair and even looking at herself in the mirror!
* She kept herself physically fit by doing yoga. She had started practising yoga at the age of 26. During her fast, she strictly followed the habit of doing yoga asanas and walked everyday to be physically fit.
* When Irom Sharmila decided to end her fast, the doctors were very cautious about her diet since her digestive system was inactive for 16 years. She broke the fast with a dab of honey and water, which was followed by 10 teaspoons of Horlicks and Chabon (a Manipuri rice soup).
* Her struggle introduced her to a beautiful love story. Her boyfriend Desmond Coutinho is a Goa-based British citizen. He read about her struggle and wrote a letter to Sharmila in 2009. Since then, they have been in contact through letters and gifts and are still very much in love.
* Irom Chanu 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’.
* The National Human Rights Commission declared Irom Chanu Sharmila as a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’.
* Sharmila is an author and poet in her native Meiteilon language. Among her literary works is Fragrance of Peace – a collection of 12 poems of “passion, protest and hope” that she wrote before starting the marathon fast.