Meet Irom Sharmila: The Iron Lady Of India Who Fasted For 16 Years To Bring Justice For The People Of Northeast!

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Irom Chanu Sharmila, also known as the “Iron Lady” or “Mengoubi” (“the righteous one”) is a famous civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur.

She is called so because of her 16 years long hunger strike in protest of civil rights for the people of the northeast.

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.

Sharmila, born 14 March 1972, belongs to Manipur, one of the Seven Sister States in India’s northeast, which has suffered from an insurgency for decades. Statistically from 2005 to 2015 about 5,500 people have died due to the rising political violence.

But it was the Malom Massacre when the 28 years old Sharmila began to fast in protest.

She pleaded the central government to retrieve the armed forces and on the refusal of her appeal she began her fast in Malom on 5 November and vowed not to eat, drink, comb her hair or look in a mirror until she sees an end to it.

Since then, Sharmila has been regularly arrested, released and re-arrested every year since her hunger strike began. Police also booked her on the charge of an attempt to suicide as she began her strike and reached a limit of self-harm and medical extortion.

She eventually called off her voluntary fasting on 9 August 2016.

With her benevolent move, she gathered immense love and support from the northeast and her community. Her initiative bought the least-cared north-east into the main light of the central government and forced it to take the necessary action.

For her social work and activism, Sharmila 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”.

Then in 2009, the Iron Lady of India was awarded the first Mayillama Award of the Mayilamma Foundation “for the achievement of her nonviolent 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.

In 2013, in the honor of hee brave initiative and determined efforts to bring justice to an entire community of deprived people, 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 one of the most powerful influences by personalities in the past and present of Indian social activism.