DELHI — On November 4, 2000, Irom Sharmila, an Indian civil rights activist, began what would become the longest recorded hunger strike ever, protesting against India's military following the killing of 10 civilians in her northeastern state of Manipur.
Fifteen years later, the now 43-year-old has never broken her fast, as The Indian Express reports Wednesday on the anniversary of the strike, noting the activist goes as far as cleaning her teeth with dried cotton so no water passes her lips.
What keeps her alive? Sharmila is force-fed three times per day through a nose-probe in a room at the Imphal Hospital, under police surveillance.
Under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, she has faced charges of attempted suicide, which, until December 2014, was illegal in the country. Sharmila, who has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has rejected these allegations on many occasions and repeated she was on a hunger strike for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which grants Indian forces special powers in what the act describes as "disturbed areas."
The incident that initially prompted the action took place on November 2, 2000 when the Assam Rifles, a government paramilitary force, responded to an attack by anti-government rebels by shooting dead 10 civilians at a bus stop in Imphal, the state capital of Manipur. Sharmila saw the pictures of the dead bodies in the newspaper the following day and started the protest that would earn her the nickname "Iron Lady of Manipur."
The activist's hunger strike is the longest in the world and her face appears as a revolutionary emblem for "Repeal AFSPA" on t-shirts across India. This, according to Indian website Catch News, is precisely what Sharmila didn't want to happen, insisting that she just wanted to lead a normal life while protesting like any ordinary person of good conscience would do.