Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A world record hunger strike?

Charged with "attempted suicide" for her hunger strike
Irom Chanu Sharmila (born March 14, 1972), is known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur" or "Menghaobi" ("the fair one").   She is a civil rights and political activist,  journalist and poet from the Indian state of Manipur. Since 2 November 2000, she has been fasting to demand that the Indian government repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA).  Her hunger strike is to draw attention to this policy which she blames for violence in Manipur and other parts of India's northeast.[2] She has refused food and water for more than ten years earning the recognition as "the world's longest hunger striker".[3]

What would motivate you to give up food for that long?!

For Ms. Sharmila, it was the "Malom Massacre"
On November 2, 2000, in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting for a bus, allegedly by the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating in the state.[4][5] The next day's local newspapers published graphic pictures of the dead bodies, including one of a 62-year old woman, Leisangbam Ibetomi, and 18-year old Sinam Chandramani, a 1988 National Child Bravery Award winner.[5]

As her brother Irom Singhajit Singh recalled, "The killings took place on 2 November, 2000. It was a Thursday. Sharmila used to fast on Thursdays since she was a child. That day she was fasting too. She has just continued with her fast".[8] Her primary demand to the Indian government was the repeal of the AFSPA, which allowed soldiers to indefinitely detain any Manipurian citizen on suspicion of being a rebel.[4] The act has been blamed by opposition and human rights groups for permitting forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and torture.[4][7]

Three days after she began her strike, she was arrested by the police and charged with an "attempt to commit suicide", which is unlawful under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, and was later transferred to judicial custody.[8] Her health deteriorated rapidly, and the police then forcibly had to use nasogastric intubation to provide nutritients and fluids in order to keep her alive while under arrest.[3] Since then, Irom Sharmila has been regularly released and re-arrested every year since under IPC section 309, a person who "attempts to commit suicide" is punishable "with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year [or with fine, or with both]".[8][9]

By 2004, Ms. Sharmila had become an "icon of public resistance".[4] During one of her arrests by the Delhi police for attempting suicide she was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she wrote letters to the Prime Minister, President, and Home Minister.[7]  During this time she won the support of Ms. Shirin Ebadi, (the Nobel Laureate and human rights activist I wrote about after meeting this spring), who promised to take up Sharmila's cause at the United Nations Human Rights Council.[7]
 Guwahati-based woman's organization, the North East Network nominated her for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize[10]  She was awarded the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which is given for "an outstanding person or group, active in the promotion and advocacy of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights".[11]  On 28 November 2010, UK Green Party leader and European Parliament member Keith Taylor wrote to the Indian government seeking the release of Sharmila and the repeal of the AFSPA.[12]

Matthew 5:6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied."