While the rest of the world was celebrating Mother’s Day on May 12, Irom Sharmila’s babies were born. The Iron Lady of India was blessed with motherhood as she delivered twin girls Nix Shakhi and Autumn Tara at a hospital in Bengaluru. Born to Irom Sharmila and her British husband Desmond Coutinho, the babies are healthy at 2.16 kgs and 2.14 kg respectively.
Why Irom Sharmila is the Iron lady
Irom Sharmila is not an unfamiliar name and neither are her struggles. In November 2000, in retaliation to the infamous Malom Massacre, where 10 civilians were allegedly shot dead by the 8th Assam Rifles at Malom Makha Leikai, near Imphal’s Tulihal airport, a 28-year-old Irom Sharmila began a prolonged hunger strike against the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Protection Act).
World’s longest non-violent protest
Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike has been dubbed as the world’s longest non-violent protest.
The only reason why she survived this prolonged protest was because she was force fed a concoction of baby formula and medicine through her nose.
Her strike which started when she was 28, in the year 2000, ended 16 years later. On July 26, 2016 she announced that she would end her fast on August 9, 2016. In her campaigns against AFSPA, the very reason she started the protest, she also announced that she would contest state elections in Manipur.
Her political career ended quickly
“I will join politics and my fight will continue,” said Irom Sharmila to the media.
Irom Sharmila’s political stint was short lived as she lost to Ibobi Singh, who defeated her in Thoubal by a margin of 15,000 votes. Her vote tally could not even surpass 100.
After a disappointing defeat at the elections in 2017, Irom Sharmila left Manipur, never to return again.
Irom Sharmila’s babies are a boon
Irom Sharmila’s prolonged hunger strike did lead to adverse effects on her health. She was force fed through her nose which led to severe malnourishment and weight loss. She was weak and fragile and her first solid meal was hard for her. She vomited almost everything and it took her months to finally be able to digest solid food and take down a full meal.
But where there is a will there is a way. And no one knows it better than her.
The lady surmounted all health issues and on May 12, 2019, at the age of 47, she gave birth to her twins in Bengaluru. She now lives with her husband Desmond Coutinho and two newborns, away from the hustle of protest and rebellion.
The love story
In early 2007, British-Indian citizen Desmond Coutinho arrived in India. He had lost his mother to cancer and the West Londoner was contemplating about his future. “I was always half-training to do something but never got anywhere,” Coutinho said.
On a friend’s suggestion, Coutinho came to India to find himself. To find a meaning and purpose that was missing from his life. He eventually settled in Bengaluru, where one morning, he saw a newspaper report about a lady, who was on a hunger strike for more than a decade. Coutinho was fascinated by the story and he was completely taken in by the indomitable will of the woman. At the end of the interview she had mentioned she liked reading books, but she wasn’t always given some.
So Coutinho started sending her letters and books. Sharmila replied to his letter three months later. Then this exchange of letters became a routine thing and Coutinho kept sending her books. He was enchanted by Sharmila and the biggest hurdle before him was how to tell this lady, who had been on a protest for years, and someone he had never met, that he wanted to start a relationship with her.
Sharmila finally made the move.
She wrote him a very sweet letter asking him to forgive her if she had misunderstood anything. Sharmila also reminded him she was not free. Was he ready for a commitment with a prisoner confined in a hospital ward?
The struggle for acceptance
The Manipuri society is traditional and did not accept their courtship sportingly. There was resistance, not only from her supporters but her own family members.
In July 2016 she announced an end date to her fast. She also said that she would marry Coutinho and continue her struggle by running for Manipur’s parliament. Her decision to marry was met with resentment. No one could accept that the lady, who had been on a hunger strike for her people, was thinking of herself now.
She married Coutinho in Kodaikanal in 2017. Irom Sharmila’s babies are making headlines now and the couple is immensely happy with the turn their relationship has taken.