Irom Sharmila – Heart of steel


A lady made the entire country look at a small north eastern state by torturing her body. Not just for a day or two like a typical politician, it went on for 16 long years. The name is Irom Chanu Sharmila. Irom Sharmila is from Manipur, one of the seven sister states that are under the AFSPA (Armed forces special powers act). She grew up in a time period where 5500 people were killed due to political violence. Her father is an assistant in a veterinary hospital and she is from a humble background. Though she was constantly raising her opinions against the AFSPA in her state in the local newspaper, it was not enough.

Irom Sharmila family:

Irom Sharmila
Kodaikanal: Activist Irom Sharmila with her husband British citizen Desmond Coutinha after getting married in Tamil Nadu

As a kid, she had no fancy lifestyle. Sometimes she used to walk for 2 kilometres for school but sometimes her father would give her a bicycle ride along with some stories on the way. Though she loved to be a doctor (as many of us did) she convinced herself that she is not that good at studies when she reached tenth grade. She did not complete her graduation and stopped her academic qualification at school levels itself. She is the youngest of nine siblings. Her father’s name is Irom C Nanda and her mother’s name is Irom Ongbi Sakhi.

Belief of Irom Sharmila:

Irom Sharmila

Coming from a state where gunshots and deaths by gun are very common, the ladies of Manipur had a practice in common. They used to fast – not eat anything in a day of the week in a belief that the Gods would someday remove the AFSPA from their state. Irom Sharmila is also not an exception. She recalled an incident when she was coming home from her school. An old rickshaw pulled by a poor guy and a boy inside was silently going on their way when a few army vehicles crossed their way. Suddenly for no reason a soldier took his baton and started hitting the boy for no reason. After a few minutes the soldiers went on their way as if nothing happened. This made a deep impact on her mind.

The start of the fight:

Irom Sharmila

Feeling sad by the atrocities by a few soldiers, she started attending many human rights conferences and seminars. Fortunately for her a lot of educated minds poured inside the state of Manipur to share their thoughts on human rights. One fine day in Manipur, a group of people were patiently waiting for bus in a small bus stand at Malom. The Assam Rifles battalion passed by that place and started shooting randomly at the people standing there. This incident is referred as Malom Massacre by many journalists. This sparked the anger in Irom Sharmila’s heart and she started her fasting against the AFSPA in her state. This is due to the fact that the battalion cannot be questioned by the judiciary system because AFSPA gives them full authority to use “deadly force” under suspicious activities.

The 16 year long fight:

Irom Sharmila

What was assumed as a small hunger protest by the politicians, gathered courage and determination with every single day. A lady who did not even finish her school studies was all set to shake up the politics in the state of Manipur. The people around her convinced her to show her hunger protest to the country. This led to the people’s support to Irom Sharmila and her wish to end AFSPA in the state of Manipur. After a few days, Irom Sharmila’s health condition went worse. This made the politicians give a sigh of relief but Irom Sharmila was not even close to the finish line of her protest. Case was booked on her for “attempting suicide / harming one’s own health” and she was taken under police custody.

Irom Sharmila

Even in police custody, the woman did not step down from her hunger protest a bit. After a lot of legal formalities, she was force fed liquid diet through Ryle’s tube (a tube that goes through her nose till her stomach). This was supposed to bring down her protest but this intensified it even more. Fuelled up by the little energy the liquid diet gave her, she started vigorous campaigns through her speech and writings against the AFSPA rule in Manipur.

Life with the help of a tube:

She was kept at Jawaharlal Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal under moderate police protection. Visitors were not allowed a time of more than 20 minutes with her. To stop her propaganda from going outside room number 1, where she was kept, they have banned video recording inside her room.

She was given access to letters, two guinea pigs and countless number of fans who used to send letters to her every day – including Desmond Coutinho.

Desmond Coutinho:

Irom Sharmila

Among thousands who wrote letters to her, one is Mr Desmond Coutinho a resident of Goa. Desmond and Irom Sharmila somehow felt the connection between them and they fell in love. Desmond did not run away from a woman who has a tube going through her nose. Irom did not let her love come in between her noble cause.

Also Read – ( AFSPA Two Sides )


Impact of Irom Sharmila:

The events that happened till the day Irom Sharmila decided her hunger protest would indicate that a lot has changed at Manipur. If you have guessed like that, my dear friend, you are wrong. Nothing much has changed at Manipur. A few areas have been removed from the reign of AFSPA but that was also fuelled by the Manorama rape case of 2004. More on that will be covered later and that is a topic for another day.

irom sharmila

Irom Sharmila decided to break the gap between the common people and politicians. She decided to wipe away the image of her being called as a separatist. This made her to contest in the elections but what followed was termed as “elegy (funeral song) of democracy”. She managed to get only 90 votes for which she replied “Thanks for 90 votes”.


Irom Sharmila is now leading a peaceful life with her husband Desmond. They got married at Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu and now she is not involved in core politics. When someone wishes to bring in a change, a 16 year old hunger protest is not enough it seems. Or are we wrong? Feel free to tell your thoughts in comments.


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