Born on 14th March 1972, Ms Sharmila is a civil rights activist, political activist and a poet from Manipur, the northeastern border state of India. She began her fast to protest the killings, taking neither food nor water. Since childhood, Ms Sharmila used to fast on Thursdays and that day she was fasting too.
Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with ‘attempt to commit suicide’, which is unlawful under section 309 of the Indian penal Code, and was later transferred to judicial custody. Her health deteriorated rapidly, and the police then forcibly had to use nasogastric intubation in order to keep her alive while under arrest. Since then, Ms Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year.
By 2004, Ms Sharmila became an ‘icon of public resistance’. She also went to Raj Ghat in New Delhi, which she said was to pay floral tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. Later, she headed for Jantar Mantar for a protest demonstration where she was joined by students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens. On October 6, she was re-arrested by the Delhi police for ‘attempting suicide’ and was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she wrote letters to the Prime Minister, President, and the Home Minister.
In 2011, she invited anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare to visit Manipur, who sent two representatives to meet her. In October 2011, the Manipur Pradesh All India Trinamool Congress announced their support for Ms Sharmila and called on party chief Mamata Banerjee to help repeal the AFSPA. The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) (CPI ML) also stated its support for her and for repealing of AFSPA, calling for nationwide agitation. In November, at the end of the eleventh year of her fast, Ms Sharmila again called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to repeal the law. On 3 November, 100 women formed a human chain in Ambari to show support to Sharmila, while other civil society groups staged a 24-hour fast in a show of solidarity.
In December 2011, Pune University announced a scholarship program for 39 female Manipuri students to honour Ms Sharmila, as she turned 39. She 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. She shared the award with Lenin Raghuvanshi of People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, a northeastern Indian human rights organization.
In 2009, she was awarded the first Mayillama Award of the Mayilamma Foundation for achievement of her non-violent struggle in Manipur. In 2010, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission. Later that year, she won the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, which came with a cash award of 5,100,000 rupees, and the Sarva Gunah Sampannah "Award for Peace and Harmony" from the Signature Training Centre.
On October 9 this year, Ms Sharmila announced that she wouldn’t accept any award unless the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act was repealed from Manipur. She turned down the Kolivan Smaraka Activist India National Award by the Kerala-based Kovilan Trust. The award, which was handed by the globally-renowned writer and activist Mahasweta Devi at Kolkata was promptly returned to the trust, only to be accepted after the Army act is repealed.
Ms Sharmila’s legendary agitation has been reflected in a number of literature and art forms. Deepti Priya Mehrotra's Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur details Ms Sharmila's life and the political background of her fast. Ojas S V, a theatre artist from Pune, has been performing a mono-play titled Le Mashale ("Take the Torch"), based on Ms Sharmila's life and struggle at several places in India. It is an adaptation of Meira Paibi (Women bearing torches), a drama written by Malayalam playwright Civic Chandran.
A strong will with a peace-loving heart, Ms Sharmila has become a symbol of human rights promoter around the globe. Her stir is legendary and unique. It’s only for a peaceful humanity, that she has been sacrificing her life. Does she not deserve the coveted Nobel Prize for Peace?