“I will never forget this moment.” – Irom Sharmila
Sixteen years of hunger pains came to an end earlier this month. Indian activist Irom Sharmila finally surrendered her protest against violence with a lick of honey.
Sixteen years without solid food is quite mind-boggling. When the 44 year-old human rights activist did need nourishment during all these years, she was only fed by a nasal drip while in police custody, reports the Daily Mail.
Known as the “iron lady,” Sharmila began her hunger strike in 2000 after the Malom Massacre, an attack where 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop were shot and killed. The attack was allegedly an act of the Assam Rifles, one of the Indian Paramilitary forces operating at the time. Sharmila vowed not to eat, drink, comb her hair or look in a mirror until the repeal of India’s Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Charged with attempted suicide – which is a crime in India – Sharmila was granted bail only after announcing her plans to end the hunger strike, but refused to plead guilty to any crime. For Sharmila, ending the strike came down to a simple matter of life or death. The activist, who was voted India’s top female icon in an MSN poll back in 2014, only ended her hunger strike because doctors had advised her that she wouldn’t survive much longer without proper food and water.
Sharmila had been arrested numerous times over the course of the 800 week+ hunger strike, and only saw her mother once during that time, fearing her mother’s grief might cause her to break.
Coincidentally, the end of the hunger strike aligns with the 70th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement, the non-violent resistance against the British. This has led some to view it as a strategic political move on Sharmila’s part. But for those who have suffered from the Malom Massacre, like Tokpam Somorendra who lost his son, it’s not about politics anymore. “She is above politics,” said Somorendra. “She has already achieved so much in the last 16 years. Military violence has gone down because of her and the awareness she has raised. For 16 years, people can’t object to anything she has stood for. If she joins politics, opposition will come.”
Like Gandhi, who eventually had his life portrayed in an Oscar-winning film by – ironically enough – British actor Ben Kingsley, there have already been talks in Bollywood of Sharmila’s story getting the movie treatment. Actress Taapsee Pannu has been rumored to be in negotiations of taking on the biopic, but tells The Indian Express she hasn’t read a script yet. “I have been asked, but we are figuring out time when will I go and listen to the script because I’ve been running around with these things (promotions). Once ‘Pink’ releases, I’ll hear it and then see,” said Pannu. If the film becomes even a mild success in Bollywood, it will probably only be a matter of time before some version of Sharmila’s story makes its way to Hollywood.