In India, the practice of a hunger protest, where the protestor fasts at the door of an offending party (typically a debtor) in a public call for justice, was abolished by the government in 1861 (although the term is still used in South Asia today); this indicates the prevalence of the practice prior to that date, or at least a public awareness of it. This Indian practice is ancient, going back to around 400 to 750 BC. This can be known since it appears in the Valmiki Ramayana, which was composed around that time. The actual mention appears in the Ayodhya Kanda, (the second book of the Ramayana), in Sarga (section) 103. Bharata has gone to ask the exiled Rama to come back and rule the kingdom. Bharata tries many arguments, none of which work, at which point he decides to do a hunger strike. He announces his intention to fast, calls for his charioteer Sumantra to bring him some sacred Kusha grass, (but Sumantra won't do it since he's too busy looking at Rama's face, so Bharata has to get the grass himself), lies down upon it in front of Rama. Rama, however, is quickly able to persuade him to abandon the attempt. Rama mentions it as a practice of the brahmanas.
On the 15th of August 1987 at 9.30 a.m at the Nallur Murugan Temple, Thileepan began his fast. His main objective was to bring awareness and action to a list of public demands made by himself and the Tamil Tigers.
The publicly stated goals of his fast were:
Although several groups requested Thileepan as well as the local IPKF administration to intervene and stop the fast, Thileepan died on the 26th of August 1987. There was widespread grief in Tamil areas. Thousands of people from the North and East flooded Jaffna as news of his death spread. His death created an anti-Indian mood in Jaffna, which had been pro-India till then.
A unique hunger strike without food and water started on July 28, 2008, led by Tibetan Youth Congress started in Indian Capital, New Delhi in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The 6 monks on hunger strike were in a critical situation and therefore the Indian police forcefully hospitalized them.
In addition to Gandhi, various others have used the hunger strike option during the Indian independence movement. Such figures include Bhagat Singh.
In 1913 the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act (nicknamed the "Cat and Mouse Act") changed policy. Hunger strikes were tolerated but prisoners were released when they became sick. When they had recovered, the suffragettes were taken back to prison to finish their sentences.
Like their British counterparts, American suffragettes also used this method of political protest. A few years prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a group of American suffragettes led by Alice Paul engaged in a hunger strike and endured forced feedings while incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia.
Hunger strikes have deep roots in Irish society and in the Irish psyche. Fasting in order to bring attention to an injustice which one felt under his lord, and thus embarrass him into a solution, was a common feature of society in Early Irish society and this tactic was fully incorporated into the Brehon legal system. The tradition is ultimately most likely part of the still older Indo-European tradition of which the Irish were part.
The tactic was used by Irish republicans from 1917 and, subsequently, during the Anglo-Irish War, in the 1920s. Early use of hunger strikes by republicans had been countered by the British with force-feeding, which culminated in 1917 in the death of Thomas Ashe in Mountjoy Prison.
In October 1920, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, died on hunger strike in Brixton prison. Two other Cork IRA men, Joe Murphy and Michael Fitzgerald, also died on hunger strike in this protest. The Guinness Book of Records lists the world record in hunger strike (without forced feeding) as 94 days, which was set from August 11 to November 12, 1920 by John and Peter Crowley, Thomas Donovan, Michael Burke, Michael O'Reilly, Christopher Upton, John Power, Joseph Kenny and Seán Hennessy at the prison of Cork. Arthur Griffith called off the strikes after the deaths of MacSwiney, Murphy and Fitzgerald.
After the end of the Irish Civil War in October 1923, up to 8000 IRA prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their continued detention by the Irish Free State (a total of over 12,000 republicans had been interned by May 1923). Two men, Denny Barry and Andrew O'Sullivan, died on the strike. The strike, however, was called off before any more deaths occurred. The Free State subsequently released the women republican prisoners. Most of the male Republicans were not released until the following year.
Under the deValera Fianna Fáil government three hunger strikers died in the Republic of Ireland in the 1940s. They were Sean McCaughey, Tony d'Arcy and Sean (Jack) McNeela. Hundreds of others carried out shorter hunger strikes during the deValera years with no sympathy from the Government.
The tactic was revived by the Provisional IRA and in the early 1970s, when several republicans such as Martin McGuinness and Sean MacStiofain successfully used hunger strikes to get themselves released from custody without charge in the Republic of Ireland. Michael Gaughan died after being force-fed in a British prison in 1974. Frank Stagg, an IRA member being held in a British jail, died after a 62-day hunger strike in 1976 which he began as a campaign to be repatriated to Ireland.
However, its major use came in the early 1980s. In 1980, Republican prisoners in the Maze Prison launched a mass hunger strike as a protest against the revocation by the British government of a prisoner-of-war-like Special Category Status for paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland. The strike, led by Brendan Hughes, was called off before any deaths, when Britain seemed to offer to concede their demands; however, the British then reneged on the details of the agreement. The prisoners then called another hunger strike the following year. This time, instead of many prisoners striking at the same time, the hunger strikers started fasting one after the other in order to maximise publicity over the fate of each one.
Bobby Sands was the first of ten Irish republican paramilitary prisoners to die during a hunger strike in 1981. There was widespread support for the hunger strikers from Irish republicans and the broader nationalist community on both sides of the Irish border. Some of the hunger strikers were elected to both the Irish and British parliaments by an electorate who wished to register their disgust at the intransigent attitude of the British government. The ten men survived without food for 46 to 73 days, taking only water and salt. After the deaths of the men and following severe public disorder, the British government granted politically motivated prisoners Special Category Status. The hunger strikes gave a huge propaganda boost to a severely demoralised Provisional IRA.
A press release on the 25th of March 2008 from Republican Sinn Féin announced that Republican prisoners of war in Maghaberry Gaol commenced a 48 hour hunger strike from Easter Sunday. The press release claims this action is in response to prisoners being put into solitary confinement after being found to be wearing Easter Lilies. Lilies are worn all through Ireland during Easter to remember all that have died for Irish freedom. The press release states that Loyalist prisoners and prison guards are allowed to wear poppies during Remembrance Day where the poppy is a symbol to honour those who have died for Britain in times of war, particularly World War I and that this is tolerated and not punished in a similar way to the alleged treatment of Republicans who wore Lilies.
In the following years, socialist movements have been increasingly marginalized and moved underground. However, many militant Marxist/Leninist groups have survived. For this reason, the number of political prisoners has always been high. In 1996, when the nationalist minister of the Islamist/conservative government launched a policy on segregation of political prisoners from each other, another hunger strike broke down, with the participation of several leftist militant groups. The strike lasted 69 days, took 12 lives, and the indifferent attitude of the government provoked a strong public protest. As a result, with the initiative of intellectuals including Yaşar Kemal, Zülfü Livaneli, and Orhan Pamuk, a deal was achieved between the government and prisoners. The prisoners took most of their rights back, which they recall as a victory.
The last wave of hunger strikes in Turkey, which has become chronic in recent years, was started against F-type prisons, which were designed for efficient segregation of political prisoners. The project was developed starting in 1997, and the strike was started on October 20, 2000, demanding F-type prisons not to be opened, by a large coalition of militant groups, this time including the Kurdish-separatist militants of PKK. The result was tragic. On December 19, 2000, the now democratic left-extreme nationalist coalition decided to break the strike using force, which was named "Back to life" operation. The operation was faced by a well-organized resistance of prisoners, resulting in the death of 28 prisoners and 2 soldiers. Since then, both F-type prisons and related hunger strikes have become an issue of daily life. According to the organization of prisoner relatives, 101 prisoners have died and above 400 have suffered from unrecoverable disease, particularly Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The governments have consistently denied claims about mistreatment of prisoners, and president Ahmet Necdet Sezer has been pardoning diseased prisoners, only to be criticized by the extreme right, since many of the released militants have been seen in different demonstrations against F-type prisons. The government maintains that 189 hunger strikers received presidential pardons since 2000.
Following the 1979 Assembly of Wales referendum's defeat, and believing Welsh nationalism was "in a paralysis of helplessness", the UK. conservative government Home Secretary announced in September 1979 that the government would not honor its pledge to establish a Welsh language television channel.
In early 1980 over two thousand members of Plaid Cymru pledged to go to prison rather than pay the television license fees, and by that spring Evans announced his intention to fast to death if a Welsh language channel were not established. In early September Evans addressed thousands at a gathering in which "passions ran high," according to Dr. Davies . The government yielded by 17th of September, and the Welsh Fourth Channel (S4C) was launched on 2 November 1982.
The first hunger strike ended on July 28, 2005, when prison authorities agreed to make concessions. According to some accounts, half a dozen detainees were close to death at that point. According to some accounts so many detainees were being forced to receive intravenous rehydration, the prison's well-equipped infirmary was overwhelmed and detainees had to be transferred to the naval hospital.
According to human rights workers, the prison authorities had a waiver form they called upon detainees to sign if they wanted to refuse intravenous rehydration. The detainees had all been advised, by their lawyers, not to sign anything their lawyers hadn't reviewed.
One concession the American authorities acknowledge making was to supply the detainees with a bottle of clean water to drink with each meal.
The detainees reported, to their lawyers, that the prison authorities had agreed that they would begin to treat them in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. A week later, when they said that the prison authorities were not abiding by their commitment, they initiated a second hunger strike in early August.
Many of the individuals captured in Afghanistan were taken to be held at Guantanamo Bay without trial. These individuals were termed as “enemy combatants.” Until July 7 2006, these individuals had been treated outside of the Geneva Conventions by the United States administration.
One of the hunger strikers, eighteen year old Omar Khadr, has told his lawyer that other triggers for the hunger strike include the detainees' ongoing concerns that the guards are showing disrespect for their religion, including turning on loud fans, playing loud music, and whistling, to disrupt the detainees' prayer meetings. Khadr reports that the prison authorities are not honoring their obligation by broadcasting the call to prayers four times a day rather than five. Khadr reports that many of the detainees resent that sometimes female GIs broadcast the call to prayer.
American Department of Defense (DoD) spokesman Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico said on July 21, 2005 that fifty detainees were involved in the first hunger strike, and spokesman Brad Blackner said on September 2, 2005 that seventy six detainees were participating in the second hunger strike. Human-rights workers estimate that both hunger strikes have between 150 and 200 participants.
On October 26, 2005, a federal judge ordered the Government to provide information about the condition of detainees to lawyers representing the hunger strikers. The Government has contested the detainees' claims of rough treatment during forced feeding. The court's decision reflects major changes from the early years of the camp's operation, when almost no information was obtainable by attorneys. The Government did not immediately announce whether it would appeal the judge's ruling.
On November 4 U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated at a Pentagon news conference that he would not permit United Nations investigators to interview the striking detainees. He said the International Committee of the Red Cross would continue to have unlimited access to interview them.
In the April 14, 2008, edition of the New Yorker magazine, Jeffrey Toobin reported that there are currently only about ten hunger strikers at Guantanamo.
The September 28, 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine contained an article examining the medical ethics of physician-supervised force-feeding of hunger-striking detainees. The article questioned the legal and ethical foundation for physician participation in the force-feeding, writing that "...military physicians cannot follow military orders to force-feed competent prisoners without violating basic precepts of medical ethics never to harm them by means of their medical knowledge.
On April 9, 2007, the New York Times reported that according to military officials and detainees' lawyers a new hunger strike has broken out at Guantanamo, with thirteen detainees being force-fed daily. In the April 14, 2008, edition of the New Yorker Magazine, Jeffrey Toobin reported that two detainees are currently being force-fed.
On January 22, 2007, Al-Arian began a hunger strike to "protest continued government harassment" after he was held in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. In a verbal agreement that appears in court transcripts, federal prosecutors agreed that Al-Arian would not have to testify before the grand jury but the agreement was disregarded by a federal judges.
The World Medical Association recently revised and updated its Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers (see: http://www.wma.net/e/policy/h31.htm). Among many changes, it unambiguously states that force feeding is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment in its Article 21.