When someone famous, like the former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, goes on a hunger strike, the whole world knows about it, but Irom Sharmila Chanu, an ordinary woman from India, has been on a political fast for the last 12 years, and hardly anyone even knows she exists.
Irom Sharmila Chanu, also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, went on a hunger strike on November 4, 2000 in an effort to have the Government of India withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) from Manipur and other parts of India. This draconian act practically gives the military the power to do as they wish, as it prohibits any legal or judicial proceedings against army personnel without the previous sanction of the Central Government. It has taken away the people’s right to protest against atrocities or engage in any lawful democratic activity. Simple civilians can easily be labeled as ‘terrorists’ or ‘suspects’ and taken into custody. According to official figures, 25,000 people have been killed in Manipur alone, since this Act came into force, in 1980. Back then, there were only four insurgent groups in the area, now there are 25 on the army’s watch list.