On a balmy Thursday evening on November 2nd , the year of the new millennium, ten civilians waiting for their daily bus to arrive were shot down before they could even board by a group run by the Indian Parliamentary Forces called the Assam Rifles in Imphal, Manipur. The ten victims included those of a senior citizen and a 18 year old young woman, who also ironically happens to be a National Child Bravery Award Winner.
The news which flashed bright on the next day’s newspaper’s didn’t seem to stir much provocation or outrage amongst the public. Nobody, but one 28 year old woman was deeply affected by this madness.
Irom Chanu Sharmila, until the unfateful day of November 2nd was just like any young girl who had hopes and aspirations to make it big in life and loved gorging on cakes and pastries. But that was her last time she’d indulge her sweet tooth.
In protest to the unlawful killings which was considered legitimate by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, Sharmila decided to fast until the act gets repealed by the Indian Government. She hasn’t touched water or food for the last ten years.
Ms. Sharmila who considers Mahatma Gandhi her role model began her fast unto death but has lead to a decade long of being incarcerated by the Police. The Act which she is banally against is one which allows Police forces to detain local residents on mere suspicision on being rebels and without any sort of a warrant. Reports of torture, disappearances and deaths were common, with women often being caught in the cross-fire between insurgents and the military. Long criticized by human rights groups, the act grants expanded powers to the armed forces to search, arrest and, under some circumstances, use lethal force against, civilians.
Her steely resolve stems from the greater love for humanity and the step-motherly treatment of her fellow Manipuris by the Government. For the last decade, the Police forces have been arresting her time and again, once every year on charges of “an attempt to suicide”. But this hasn’t deterred her will one bit. She’s got her mother’s blessings and her elder brother’s complete support to continue the fast.
She has been currently detained at the Jawarharlal Nehru’s Institute of Medical science where she is forcefully fed a diet of complex carbohydrates and proteins through a tube three times a day. She spends the rest of the time reading Manipuri literature and poetry, all presented to her by her various supporters from across the world. Sharmila believes that Yoga for three hours a day keeps her body as strong as the mightest and healthiest of human beings. Food and drink is considered a luxury she cannot afford at this hour of time.
Sharmila’s resoluteness has been set as an example amongst her people.
In July 2004, Thangjama Manorama was allegedly raped and killed by the Security Forces. The discovery of her bullet-ridden body provoked a dozen Manipuri women to strip completely and protest with banners saying “Indian Army, Rape Us!” One of the women, L. Gyaneshori, was quoted as saying, “The women of Manipur have been disrobed by the A.F.S.P.A.,” using the initials for the special powers act. “We are still naked.”
Innocent women end up paying the brunt of the heated crossfire between the Security Forces and Rebel leaders. In 2007, The Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network was to assist victims of the violence against women.
The most recent development has been Sharmila finding love. And that love happens to be a Britisher who is now based in Nepal who recently sent her a brand new laptop, among other books. The books have been sent to her mostly by her admirers, among who is someone very special. Sharmila says with a smile that lights up her face, “Most of the books come from the man I love.”
Out of determination that water does not enter her body, Irom Sharmila cleans her teeth with cotton wool. She has stopped mensurating, her skin is pale, hair thinning, but the sparkle in her eyes never seems to fade away.