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    Irom Sharmila: The Iron Lady


    “I sustained pain in my private parts. When I urinated, I checked my private parts and the pain coming from there. I found blood in my private parts.” Irom Sharmila Chanu  translated the gang rape case of Mercy M.Kabui for Advocate Preeti Verma, Sharmila was emotionally troubled after hearing Mercy’s personal account of being raped in the sanctuary of her own home, by two CRPF personnel’s in front of her father-in-law while her husband was being held by other two CRPF personnel outside the house.

    On 2 November 2000, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, ten civilians were allegedly shot and killed by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state, while waiting at a bus stop.The incident later came to be known to activists as the “Malom Massacre”. The next day’s local newspapers published graphic pictures of the dead bodies, including one of a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.

    Irom Sharmila Chanu. also known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur” or “Mengoubi” began to fast in protest of the killings , to demand that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces  (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), taking neither food nor water.On 6 November 2000, three days after she launched the strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an “attempt to commit suicide”, which is unlawful under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, and was later transferred to judicial custody. With her determination not to take food nor water, her health deteriorated tremendously; the police then forcibly had to use nasogastric intubation in order to keep her alive while under arrest. Since then Irom Sharmila has been under a ritual of release and arrest every year since under IPC section 309, a person who “attempt to commit suicide” is punishable “with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.Unfortunately, at that time, Irom Sharmila’s crusade against this draconian law didn’t gather much publicity from the media outside the state, mainly because it is from the North Eastern part of the country. The government of India has always been accused of step-motherly treatment towards the states and suppressing the media from reporting any atrocities that take place in that state. Much as they tried, the police and the government couldn’t break Irom Sharmila’s spirit.  Every time she was released, she would go on a hunger strike and get rearrested. Eventually, Irom Sharmila’s efforts began to get recognized by the media in other parts of the country in 2004 and she became an icon of public resistance. On October 6, 2006, after a procedural release, she gathered human rights activists along with other concerned citizens in Delhi at Jantar Mantar. She was promptly arrested by the authorities for attempted suicide and admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She wrote to the Prime Minister, Home Minister, and President requesting them to at least modify the AFSPA, if not repeal it. However, there wasn’t much response from the government. Today, Irom Sharmila is the world’s longest hunger striker, not having consumed food or water for over 11 years. She continues to fight and has vowed to continue her strike until the law is at least modified.

    “There was no other means to stop further violations by the armed forces against innocent people. I thought that peace rally and inquiry commissions would be meaningless. Unless I do something to change the situation.” – Irom Sharmila Chanu

    Poems by Irom Sharmila Chanu

    Wake up
    Wake up brothers and sisters
    The savior of the nation
    We have come out all the way
    Knowing we all will die
    Why the fear is
    So shaky in the heart?
    Yes, myself too
    In the impact of this hard step
    Overwhelmed with anxiety and fear
    With the prayer to almighty
    Praising the spirit of truth
    Touchily from this frail body
    I am bidding farewell
    Yet longing for life
    Though birth is followed by death
    So fond of to accomplice
    My desired mission

    This adjoining night of two centuries
    I hear all heart touching sounds in my ears
    Thee, the beloved goddess, called time
    Your poor girl is stirred at this hour
    This late night makes me so restless
    Cannot forget the world of captivity
    Those shedding tears
    When birds flap their wings
    Those asking
    What this walkable legs for?
    Those sayings
    These eyes are useless
    Oh Prison! you go just vanish
    So cruel is the strength of yours
    Of iron bars and chains
    Tear many a lives untimely


    My hands be given to you
    Dear friends
    Greet me please
    Very anxious I am
    Want to show inside and outside
    Words are too poor to express
    May voice of ordinary
    Of a flavorless smile
    Yet wanted to have
    The fuse of a bomb
    To burn out all the dirt
    May some costless tears
    Yet wanted to glitter
    On every single face
    In the light of new epoch
    May the step be of single
    Of no strength
    Yet wanted to make
    The impression of hundreds on
    To transform it into
    Magic spell of courage
    Open the door
    Come out
    Since possessing head and mouth
    So hard to move on !

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    1. The satyagraha has continued to over 13 years now. It’s very difficult to get India to notice especially since the Manipur Government keeps Sharmila in isolation in Imphal. Just had another pointless email conversation with a self-proclaimed Meitei supporter of Sharmila who studies in the mainland. They don’t vote. So they can’t vote out the incumbents this election time. They are too busy to visit Sharmila. Most in Imphal leave it to the NGOs and activists. They won’t comment on the death threat against Sharmila because that’s divisive and then mentioned a conflict of interest. The tactic of bringing her to Dehli for trial where it is far more difficult for India to ignore her they either actively oppose or collude with the Government isolation. Then they went with I must be a government spy only pretending to help Sharmila. I wish these people would start pretending then.