What Happens When Hunger Strikes?


 Starving yourself as a revolutionary movement, as a zealous motion for political change, seems like a foreign concept to most of us. Maybe it’s foreign, particularly to one over-fed, immoderate Nation. Starvation is probably the least likely form of a strike Americans would gravitate to as a means to opposing the system. For some reason, it’s not a course to make one’s voice heard we are accustomed to.

But across the world, in years past, it’s probably been considered the most civil form of rebellion. Hunger strikes are a silent, self-inflicted protest; a modest man’s revolt. While there are those occurences, such as the recent Guantánamo hunger strike, who forgo daily feeding by the masses, hunger strikes are more commonly suffered in solace. 

Pussy Riot band member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” (basically a sacreligious concert in Moscow’s main Orthodox Cathedral in order to publicly, and creatively, I might add, denounce Vladimir Putin) feels her living conditions in the woman’s penal colony are life threatening and inhumane. This week, in writing, Nadezhda announced:

"Therefore, on Sept. 23, I am declaring a hunger strike and refusing to take part in the slave labor in the colony until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle thrown out of the justice system to serve the needs of the sewing industry but like people."  (The Huffington Post)

Considering the uproar this Pussy Riot-er took part in, there is no telling what kind of conditions and treatment any of these pussies may be facing, and the leader of this pack has decided to take this rather public, but reclusive stance against what she feels is brutal treatment. But just how beneficial are these hunger strikes? Since the early 20th century, such strikes have been endured to see through vision and cultivate change in society. So can an individual's will power to deny themselves sustenance and withstand hunger really cause change?

Looking back at past non-violent revolutions, what exactly happens when hunger strikes?

1. The Government Pays Attention

One of the first recorded in history, and certainly the first woman, Marion Wallace was arrested for stenciling a part of the British Bill of Rights on the House of Commons. In response, to what she felt was an inhuman sentence imprisonment, Marion embarked on one of the first ever hunger strikes.

Quickly (4 days to be exact) Marion was released from prison for fear of her declining health.

2. Countries Find Peace

Certainly famous for more than just hunger strikes and possibly one of the most fierce non-violent figures in history, Gandhi turned to these starvation strikes a number of times. Some were more successful than others. A 21 day fast that he set out on against British rule, proved unsuccessful while another fast concluded within five day with Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus agreeing to work towards the national unity Gandhi envisioned.                                                                                             (US News)

3. People Die

Following a 5 year protest with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) that began in 1976, Sands initiated a hunger strike with cell mates in 1981 after being imprisoned for his riotous acts. Actually, Bobby’s strike followed the IRA’s “group” strike, a “no wash” motion where IRA prisoners didn’t wash for days, but rather covered their cells in their excrements and wastes. (Who wouldn’t lose their appetite after that?)

While the strike ultimately led to Bobby’s death (he died 60 days after beginning the fast, and 9 other deaths followed him), while imprisoned and on strike Bobby was elected to the British Parliament.                                                                       (BBC)

4. Celebrities Find Purpose for Starvation 

Mia Farrow embarked on a 12 day fast, for the “people of Darfur and as a personal expression of outrage at a world that is somehow able to stand by and watch innocent men, women and children needlessly die of starvation, thirst and disease.” Though due to doctor’s orders Mia had to end, what she had hoped would be a 21 day strike, by day 12. While Mia may have rated her movement as unsuccessful, it did give her something to blog about...                                                                                     (The Huffington Post)