Irom Sharmila, who ended the world’s longest hunger strike on Tuesday afternoon with a lick of honey, was force-fed a rich diet through a nasal pipe every day of her 16-year fast.
The Manipur government spent at least Rs 10,000 a month on a special vitamin and mineral-enriched diet to ensure the right activist did not – at least technically -- go hungry.
“She is getting the healthiest and most balanced of diets that even the richest Indian probably is not getting,” one of the doctors who attended to her in Imphal’s Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) told HT earlier on Tuesday.
Till Tuesday afternoon, it took at least 40 persons — five JNIMS doctors, 12 nurses, three policewomen in civvies and two medical supervisors from Imphal jail besides a ring of policemen — to ensure that Sharmila received her injections of nutrients through the feeding tube.
Thrice a day, she was given supplements with adequate amounts of calcium, fats, carbohydrate and vitamins.
“We tweaked the nutrient dosage if she lost or gained weight (maintained at 51 kg),” a former head of medicine at JNIMS said.
“We checked her blood, stool and urine regularly and conducted ECG to check her heartbeat. She usually cooperated but was tough to handle during one of her mood swings.”
On those days, she would pull out the nasal tube and had to be put on intravenous glucose drip. Doctors and prison officials would then talk her into accepting the tube again -- intravenous drips can cause complications beyond two days.
Apart from the “doctored diet”, Sharmila did four hours of yoga and walked – escorted – in the corridor outside her 8x12 ft ward.
Sharmila impressed doctors and police with her yoga skills. Former superintendent of police (prisons) Themthing Ngashangva recalled how a policewoman saw Sharmila do a 180º leg stretch and push-ups on just two fingers.
Arrested periodically for attempt to suicide, Sharmila had been in custody of the Imphal central jail in but spent most of her 5,757 hunger strike days in the hospital.
“Maintaining her nutrition and other requirements such as toiletries, books and newspapers costs us an average 10,000 a month,” Ngashangva told HT in 2011.
“We reimburse a pharmacy for the food supplements every month, and we ensure there’s enough stock of her ingredients for her liquid diet even during difficult times,” Ngashangva said.
Landlocked Manipur, politically and ethnically-charged, often experiences highway blockades leading to shortage of essentials.
But rights activists, some of whom are not happy with Sharmila choosing personal life over public life, said force-feeding did not take the bite away from her struggle against the armed forces special powers act (Afspa), which gives security forces sweeping powers to raid, search and shoot.
Sharmila wants an end to the legislation that “gives soldiers the licence to kill” and plans to turn to politics to continue her struggle.
“I want to contest election because I need power for big change in society and system,” she told media on Tuesday.
Sharmila was 28 when she began the fast two days after Assam Rifles personnel killed 10 people in Malom village near Imphal on November 2, 2000.
Nov 4, 2000: Irom Sharmila goes on hunger strike
Nov 11, 2000: Is put on a saline drip after she collapses
Nov 21, 2000 on: Thrice a day, nutrients containing calcium, fats, carbohydrate and vitamins are mixed with water and fed to her through the nasal tube