World's longest running hunger striker Irom Sharmila charged with trying to commit suicide

Activist launched her fast in November 2000 to protest over the killing of a group of civilians by paramilitary forces

Delhi

It was a piece of theatre that appeared little short of absurd.

Activist Irom Sharmila, a woman from India’s north-east who has been force-fed for the past 12 years, was flown to Delhi so that a judge could charge her with trying to commit suicide. The 40-year-old declined to play along.

“I do not want to commit suicide. Mine is only a non-violent protest,” the activist told the judge, according to the Press Trust of India. “It is my demand to live as a human being. I love life. I do not want to take my life but I want justice and peace.”

The activist known as the Iron Lady of Manipur launched her fast in November 2000 to protest over the killing of a group of civilians by paramilitary forces and to demand the repeal of legislation that provides effective immunity to soldiers. Since then she has refused to eat, drink or even brush her teeth with water.

Refusing to end her fast until the so-called Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is withdrawn from all of Manipur, she has been repeatedly detained and fed twice a day by a tube attached to her nose. In 2006, she brought her protest to Delhi where she was arrested by police and charged under section 309 of the Indian penal code; the slow nature of the system means her case is only now reaching court.

“The magistrate said to her ‘if you plead guilty the [matter could be dropped],’’ said Svetlana Correya, from the Human Rights Law Network and a member of the activist’s defence team. “But she did not want to plead guilty. She said ‘I’m not trying to commit suicide but this is a form of protest’.”

Ms Correya said the judge said he had no option but to adjourn the case until May 22 when the court will hear evidence and Ms Irom will have to attend again. A spokesman for the Delhi police failed to respond to queries.

Ms Irom is due to be flown back to Manipur on Tuesday, escorted by four police officers and a three-strong medical team. She is kept in the secure wing of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences hospital in the city of Imphal where twice a day she is fed a liquid mixture of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. She rarely gets to see the sunshine.

Following her court hearing, Ms Irom insisted her fast would continue and said she was following the example of Mohandas Gandhi, the “father of the nation”. Taking hold of the feeding tube attacked to her nose, she told said: “This has become a part of my body. I think it’s an integral to my struggle.”

She added: “As a human being, I am a natural phenomenon. But this is not a natural phenomenon.”

After deciding to launch her fast, she has bad barely any contact with her family, reckoning that if she were to meet her mother, Shakhi Devi, who lives little more than a mile from where Sharmila is held, she would feel tempted to end her action. “I feel that we came here alone and that we pass away alone,” she said. “I don’t want others to judge me to do this or that.”

Manipur has been rocked by five decades of violence stemming from the actions of more than 40 militant groups demanding independence from India. The state has responded by dispatching tens of thousands of security personnel, who have been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses. A government panel is currently hearing evidence regarding claims of extra-judicial killings.

The activist, who has won a number of international human rights awards, said the state’s chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, had done nothing to improve the situation and claimed he was only focussing on his own business interests. “Everything in Manipur is upside down,” she said.

Asked about comparisons that have been made between her and other celebrated activists such as Nelson Mandela, she added: “I don’t like to worship human beings. All human beings are two sides, good and bad, in their character. So when we worship a person, we worship the bad side of the person.”

Reflecting on the 12 years that have passed since she stopped eating, the activist said: “I never thought about [my] situation when I started. I just felt I was a foundation stone.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most