On account of International Women’s day, team Urban Tree has meticulously chosen some great women achievers of our country. As we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women on March 8, this is a series of blogs that feature those strong women of India who have made their way up to become successful by breaking stereotypes!
The Iron Lady of Manipur (Irom Chanu Sharmila) hails from Manipur and is a well-known political activist, poet and civil rights activist. She started a hunger strike on the 2nd November 2000 and is still continuing her strike and refusing any food. She has been called the world’s longest hunger striker. And in a poll conducted by MSN, she is the top woman icon of India in 2014.
The Iron Lady hails from Manipur and has suffered from intra tribal warfare, terrorism, government sponsored violence and insurgency for decades. She was already part of many peace movements in response to an incident that occurred in the Imphal Valley where ten civilians were killed while waiting at a bus stop now known as the “Malom Massacre”. Many people believe that this deed was committed by the Assam Rifles a paramilitary Indian force that was operating in the state but there was a lack of evidence to support such a claim.
The Fight Against AFSPA:
In response to this horrible act of violence, Sharmila who was 28 at the time of the incident took to fasting as a form of protesting. The fast began on 5th of November and she has vowed not to eat, comb her hair, drink or look in a mirror until the AFSPA put forth by the Indian government be repealed. When 2004 came around, Sharmila was already an icon of resistance. By 2 October of 2006 Sharmila want to Raj Ghat in order to pay floral tribute to the ideal Mahatma Gandhi. In the evening, she went to Jantar Mantar for another protest where she was joined by other students, human rights activists and many concerned citizens.
She then proceeded to write letters to the Home Minister, President and the Prime Minister. She also won the support of the nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi who vowed to take up the cause at the United Nations Human Rights Council. She has gained support by other powerful forces like the All India Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India. In December 2011 Pune University had announced a scholarship program for 39 female Manipuri students to take degree courses in honor of Irom Sharmila Chanu’s 39 years of age.
When asked about the motivation behind these actions and why she continues on in the face of such indifference from the Indian State, Sharmila replies: “People in India see me as a separatist. But that’s not who I am. I am struggling for India’s integrity too. After the way the army has behaved, if the government does not agree to repeal AFSPA, India will lose Manipur automatically. The government fears that repealing AFSPA will result in losing Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan as well. I would like to ask the government: why don’t you try and connect to the hearts of the discontented people?”