A moment unforgettable in time: Irom Sharmila breaks her fast after 16 years. In front of a crowd of people, the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ broke her fast by licking a few drops of honey off her finger. This very simple act appeared to bring her to tears, but it masks a decade and half’s worth of struggle and protest.
Following the ‘Malom Massacre’ in 2 November 2000, she had vowed not to eat anything nor see her mother’s face till AFSPA (Armed Forced Special Protection Act) had been repealed; an act that has seen repeated human rights violations under it in the areas in which it is enforced.
Irom Sharmila held out against force feeding and custody by the government, to the point that Amnesty International declared her a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’. Her struggle came to an end on August 9 – a moment that signalled hope for the future as she declared that she would contest the assembly polls in 2018 against the present Chief Minister, O. Ibobi Singh. This decision did not come to her easy. As Sharmila herself put it, “Despite doing fast for sixteen years, I got nothing. I have decided to end fast to do something different. This is my decision.”
This movement towards politics, while not completely unopposed, indicates a move towards a real change, a change that has been out of reach for the people of Manipur but transformed Sharmila into an icon of protest and resistance.