`Manipur Iron Lady´ Irom Sharmila gave birth to twin baby girls on 12th May 2019 in Bengaluru coincidently on the occasion of Mothers day. The 46-year-old civil rights activist, delivered the babies at Cloudnine hospital, Malleswaram, Bangalore.
Irom is famous across the world for her 16-year long hunger strike against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in her home State Manipur. Manipur has been suffering insurgency since decades with death toll of 5000 people from year 2005-20015. On November 2, 2000, soldiers of the Assam Rifles opened fire on a crowd, which had women and children as well. The Army said the 10 people who were killed in the firing at Malom, a town in the Imphal valley, were insurgents and claimed immunity from prosecution under AFSPA. It was this massacre that led Sharmila to launch her fast.
Irom began a hunger strike on 5th November 2000 to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. During this time period, she was released and arrested, many times under “attempt to commit suicide”. She was confined to the prison ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) in Imphal and was force-fed through nasogastric intubation to keep her alive. She ended the fast on 9 August 2016, after 16 years of fasting. Having refused food and water for more than 500 weeks, she has been called “the world’s longest hunger striker”. On International Women’s Day, 2014 she was voted the top woman icon of India by MSN Poll.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)
AFSPA was passed as a law by Indian government in 1958. It applies to the seven north eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir. According to this special powers act, security forces have the power to search properties without a warrant, and to arrest people, and to use deadly force if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is acting against the state.
Struggle and Recognition
By 2004, Sharmila had become an “icon of public resistance”. She wrote letters to the Prime Minister, the President, and the Home Minister. On 3 November 2011, 100 women formed a human chain in Ambari, Guwahati to show support for Sharmila, while other civil society groups staged a 24-hour fast in a show of solidarity. In 2011 the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC) was launched to highlight Sharmila’s struggle. In December 2011,Pune University announced a scholarship program for 39 female Manipuri students to take degree courses in honour of Irom Sharmila Chanu’s 39 years of age.
Sharmila´s 16 year old peaceful resistance brought the attention of Indian public to the atrocities committed under AFSPA. In 2013 Amnesty International declared her a Prisoner of conscience, and said she “is being held solely for a peaceful expression of her beliefs.” The influence made by Irom Sharmila is often considered as one of the most powerful influences by personalities in the past and present.
By 2016, Sharmila has gotten disillusioned by the apathy of Manipuri people who did not join her in her fast and let her be the sacrificial lamb in the struggle against AFSPA. On 26 July 2016, she announced that she would end her fast and would contest state elections in Manipur. She stated that her decision to join politics is to continue her fight for removal of AFSPA. She launched a political party named Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance´ and contested Assembly elections in Manipur. However she lost the elections and received only 90 votes.
After the setback in electoral politics, she said she has no interest in politics and want to live a normal life. She married her then fiancé Goan-born British national Desmond Coutinho in 2017 and settled in Kodaikanal. Last year, however, they shifted to Bengaluru after Irom got pregnant.
The couple has named the twins Nix Sakhi and Autumn Tara. Their first daughter, Nix Sakhi, has been named after her late mother, Irom Sakhi. Their second daughter has been named after “a Buddhist goddess”.