Irom Sharmila is on Tuesday expected to end her 16-year hunger strike against alleged army atrocities. Her decision to call off the protest and join politics has invited death threats. Many supporters and some family members want her to continue the fast.
As Sharmila embarks on a new journey, here is a look at girl from a small Manipur village who took on the Indian state:
1) Often called the Iron lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila is the youngest of nine siblings. She wanted to be a doctor but chose to be a rights activist to wage war against the armed forces special powers act (Afspa) that allegedly gives soldiers the “licence to kill”.
2) Sharmila was born in 1972 and was 28 when she began her fast on November 4, 2000, two days after Assam Rifles personnel gunned down 10 people, including teenage students on way to tuition classes, at Malom near Manipur capital Imphal.
3) She has since become the face of the anti-Afspa movement in Manipur and elsewhere in the country, easily recognisable from her free-flowing curly hair and a feeding tube stuck to her nose.
4) Sharmila has been in the custody of Imphal’s Sajiwa Central Jail but spends her time in the city’s Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences. At least 40 persons, including five doctors, 12 nurses and three policewomen, ensure she gets her injections of nutrients through the nasal tube.
5) After her first arrest in 2000, Sharmila has been released and rearrested several times for attempt to commit suicide, which is still a crime. The Rajya Sabha on Monday passed a bill that decriminalises suicide bid. The bill will now go to the Lok Sabha.
6) Sharmila is an author and poet in her native Meiteilon language. Among her literary works is Fragrance of Peace – a collection of 12 poems of “passion, protest and hope” that she wrote before starting the marathon fast.
7) Sharmila took her protest to New Delhi in 2006 where she and other activists began fasting at Jantar Mantar. She was arrested but her hunger strike got international attention and members of the European parliament wrote to the Indian government seeking changes to Afspa.
8) Sharmila has received several prizes. They include the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2007, a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize, both in 2010. Amnesty International declared her a Prisoner of Conscience in 2013.
9) The activist’s personal life began to affect her public life after Desmond Coutinho, a British citizen of Indian origin, met her in the hospital in March 2011. Sharmila and Coutinho, then 48, had been exchanging letters since 2009 and after their meeting, Sharmila said he loved her. This did not go down well with many in Manipur who believed Coutinho was planted by the government to wean Sharmila away from the anti-Afspa movement.
10) On July 26, Sharmila surprised her supporters by deciding to end her fast, join electoral politics and get married. She will be set free on Tuesday if she sticks to her decision.