Irom Sharmila, also known as “Iron Lady”, is a political and civil rights activist from Manipur, India. A national symbol of unbroken determination, she serves as an inspiration to all, with the message of sheer perseverance. Coming from a humble background, Sharmila was witness to insurgency and political violence with the Malom Massacre being her tipping point. In November, 2000 she began a fast in protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 where she vowed not to eat, drink, comb her hair or look in a mirror until it’s revokement.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is an act of the Parliament of India that grants special powers to the Armed Forces in India to maintain public order in areas declared as “disturbed areas”. According to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976 once an area is declared ‘disturbed’, it has to maintain the status quo for a minimum of 3 months, regardless of any social and political developments. The Acts have received criticism due to concerns about alleged human rights violations that have happened in the regions of its enforcement.
Sharmila was regularly arrested and released the course of her fast under attempt to commit suicide and even forced to undergo nasoratic intubation in order to keep her alive in custody. However in August 2016, she decided to end her 16-year fast and instead contest in Manipur’s state elections where she felt her cause could be furthered better.