Indien: Irom Sharmila Chanu

With armed conflict against a more powerful state an option of diminishing returns, Irom's Gandhian strategy seems to provide the only ray of hope-if she lives through it.

— Irom Sharmila Chanu

Irom Sharmila Chanu (born 1972) is the face of the Manipuri protests against the savage Armed Forces Special Powers Act in force in the state, and military excesses and atrocities. In November 2000, Sharmila went on a fast-unto-death, protesting against the killing of 11 civilians in Malom. The government promptly arrested her for attempted suicide. Since that day, she has been in the security ward of a government hospital, force-fed through her nose. Although greatly weakened, Sharmila refuses to break her fast.

Irom Sharmila Chanu lost her father in 1980 and her eldest brother in 1997. When this sensitive women volunteered her services to the Justice Suresh's People's Tribunal of Justice in October 2000, she was witness to the testimony of Mercy Kabui of Lamdam, who had been raped by state forces' personnel in front of her father-in-law. The shock and turmoil of this experience turned her personal tide in November 2000, when she went on a fast-unto-death, protesting against the Malom massacre in Manipur, where Assam Rifles opened fire, killing 11 civilians. Her demand remains that the intemperate Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a virtually extralegal measure in force in Manipur, be repealed. On the third day of her fast, she was arrested on charges of attempted suicide. Irom's fast, which she steadfastly refuses to break, has brought the issue of human rights' violations into the public domain, sparking off a cloudburst of protests and reactions by human rights organizations. She remains in the security ward of the government hospital in Imphal. Nasogastric tube feeding started in November 2000, and continues, despite her absence of cooperation. She is only 32 years old, but has stopped menstruating, is appallingly weak, and her locomotive capacities have worsened over the years. Her family is distraught and helpless in the face of her determination. Two women who were inspired to follow Irom's fast-unto-death were persuaded to withdraw, since they have children. Irom continues to fast alone-peacefully resisting, from her bed, the extremely violent reality of Manipur today.