As Julia Child’s adage goes “People who love to eat are always the best people”; We all are justified by this quote. Food is a basic need and to eat is a necessity. We all love food and to feel the taste of it after a moment without, refreshes the soul.
In the contemporary society it is very rare to see people missing a day without eating under their volition. What the millennial don’t comprehend is that hunger strikes was such a powerful form of protest for activism back in the days. This strategy of protest was mainly done by prisoners. Some of the institutions and freedoms we take for granted have been established on hungry stomachs. And it serves me the greatest pleasure to honor such people for their selfless pursuits for the greater virtuous cause.
10 human rights activists who fought using hunger strike:
10. Bhagat Singh
Born in 1931 in a British owned colonial district in India. Bhagat Singh grew up as an epitome of Resistance to the British Rule over India. He became actively engrossed in the Indian independence movement which led to several national protests and several stints in prison.
However, his biggest strike came when he was falsely convicted for the murder of Saunders and Channan Singh. He decided to popularize his plea and grievances for better hygienic standards among political prisons using the hunger strike. This strategy won over many inmates who joined in the protest to the extent of them refusing to break the fasts even after the British authorities tempted them with delicious chunks of food in their cells. They were determined to the cause and never touched any of it.
Finally, after his plea was heard and implemented he ended up the strike becoming a hero but losing 119 pounds!
9. Cesar Chavez
Born to a low class Mexican family, Cesar was a hardworking man who spent much of his early life tilling the farms in Arizona and California. He however was angered by the treatment most of his fellow migrants received from the farm Lords. In these farms as they were considered as slaves than a valued workforce.
This triggered him to form the national farm workers Association; A revolt organization aimed at advocating for the rights of such workers. He conducted up rallies and protests winning majority of the ill-treated supporters. However, the strategy didn’t work. He therefore decided to stage several hunger strikes to highlight the plights of the workers and to attract the attention of the cruel farm Lords.
The strike lasted 36 days. And after his death in 1993, he was commemorated as a hero for championing the plights of migrant workers in the United States of America.
8. Parit Chiwarak
Thai anti-monarchy government protest leader Mr. Chiwarak commonly known as “the Penguin” has risen up to be modern hero of our generation. The Thammasat University student, he has been involved in several protests; Such as tying white ribbons around Bangkok to highlight the disappearance of fellow activist in Cambodia.
However his popularity status blew during his time in prison on March 15 2021, when he decided he would undergo a hunger strike until granted bail. His hunger strike lasted 46 days as the activist was finally released from pre-trial detention and granted bail.
7. Solange Fernex
The French born activist became such an influential figure in the French political arena. For advocating her policy on increasing awareness on the impact of Nuclear power on the environment, and the potential risks that the reactors could wreck upon a catastrophic event.
This led the influential Politician to organize a 40-day hunger strike; Which was aimed at enticing the public to vote in rejection of implementation of nuclear power. However, the cause was vile and futile as the public voted in favor of nuclear disbarment thereby accepting the effects of nuclear technology. In her valiant efforts as an activist, she is still widely cherished for her unwavering stand.
6. Irom Chanu Sharmila
The Indian born “Iron Lady of Manipura” as she was commonly known serves the longest hunger strike record in the world which lasted for 500 weeks! Impossible? Not. The government was forced to install nasal drip to sustain her life in the entire cause of her hunger strike.
Following the Indian Armed Forces Special powers act which allowed the soldiers to shoot on sight and kill on their warranted will; 10 unarmed civilians succumbed to such policy. This angered many and Irom took the stand to rebuke such acts by undergoing hunger fasts. Despite being arrested by the government for trying to starve herself to death, her popularity grew every day for the entire period.
However on July 26th 2016, she broke her fasting under her own volition. She was rewarded with a lifetime achievement from the Asian Human Rights Commission for her unwavering acts and remains to be the voice of inspiration to the future generations.
5. Jatindra Nath Das
The Indian activist was a crusader for the rights of political prisoners alongside Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Both of whom were prisoners at Lahore Central jail. His determination for his quest led him to undergo a 63 day long fast for protecting political prisoners from injustice.
Due to his unwavering stand not to eat, he was constantly beaten and had to endure a plethora of hardships leading him to suffer from damaged lungs as he was forced to eat. He was so staunch in his quest that even as paralysis ate through his whole body, he still continued with his fast. His popularity at this time was soaring among the public and the government feared for his release. He ended up dying at prison from the hunger strike
4. Raymond McCreesh
The provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer in the South Armagh Brigade was captured while attempting an ambush to a British Army observation post. On March 1977 he was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the act. And a further five years for being a member of the IRA. He was further accused of killing 10 protestant civilians in 1976 and was sent to the infamous Maze Prison.
He joined the blanket protest which was part of the five year protest by the captured IRA soldiers held in Maze prison. Their status as political prisoners also known as special category status had begun to be scrapped off .This meant that they would be treated as ordinary convicts of criminal record and were required to start wearing prison uniforms and working like the rest of the ordinary convicts.
Raymond and the rest of the convicted political prisoners refused the terms and later on he was involved in 1981 Irish hunger strike to advocate for their rights as political prisoners. After undergoing 61 days of hunger strike he was found dead in his prison cell .The cause of death was severe starvation. At his burial he received a heroic send off with thousands upon thousands attending his funeral.
3. Bobby Sands
The Irish born activist of the 1950s generation remains forever cemented in the Irish history for all the good and the bad reasons. After being arrested for the possession of firearms in the Bombing of the Balmoral furniture in Dunmurry, Sands became a disruptive prisoner.
He orchestrated a hunger strike in 1981. Alongside other Republican prisoners protesting the removal of special category Status; Which prohibited Political convicts of trouble related offences privileges such as not having to work, not wearing uniforms, and extra visits among others.
However his 66 days of self-imposed starvation led to his eventual demise alongside the nine others in the infamous 1981 hunger strike. This triggered a nationwide rioting with the British Prime minister accusing Mr. Sands for orchestrating his suicidal mission.
2. Jawar Mohammed
Imagine the thought of having to suffer on the behalf of others for their greater good by undergoing fasting in prison. Hats the lifestyle Mr Jawar voluntarily chose. This contemporary, former U.S citizen and Ethiopian based activist and a member of the Oromo Federalist Congress became a trending topic on the inter-webs after undergoing a 39 day fasting in prison. This was after an altercation after popular Oromo musician and songwriter; Hachalu Hundessa was assassinated and later charged with death of law enforcement officer and inciting violence alongside other constitutional charges.
His main reason for undertaking the 39 hunger strike was to demand the release of Oromo; Opposition political parties’ leaders and members. The opening of their party offices and for an end to the mistreatment of prisoner’s families by security forces.
1. Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi became a renowned leader not only in India for his home rule campaign but also as a brand of passive resistance in the world.
In relation to British’s government decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste, Mahatma in his prison cell at Yerwada Jail in Pune decided to undertake a hunger strike protest. This becomes first of his sequel of hunger strikes terming them as “fast of death”. The strategy was in protest of new Indian constitution which gave the lowest classes a political representation period of 70 years. According to Gandhi, this would result in division among India’s social classes.
However less than two weeks after breaking the fast, he was assassinated on his way to an evening prayer meeting.