India’s ‘Iron Lady’ ends 16-year hunger strike over military law
Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila ended a 16-year hunger strike on Tuesday against an army law that she said led to atrocities in her northeastern state, and she vowed to press on with her fight by entering politics.
Sharmila, in tears, broke her fast in front of reporters by dripping honey into her mouth. She said she would continue to fight a law that gives security forces wide powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight in parts of remote Manipur state.
“I will never forget this moment,” she told a news conference as she called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal the law.
“Without this draconian law, you can connect with us, you can govern us with fatherly affection, without discrimination.”
Known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, Sharmila has spent most of the last 16 years hospitalized and force-fed under judicial custody. Attempted suicide is an offence in India.
Outside court in Manipur’s capital of Imphal earlier on Tuesday, she said she wanted to live like a “normal human being” and pledged to contest state elections due next year.
She launched her hunger strike in 2000 after security forces killed 10 people near her home following a rebel attack on a military convoy.
Her long protest won her worldwide recognition and the rights group Amnesty International described her as a prisoner of conscience.
Manipur, an underdeveloped state with a population of 2.5 million, has struggled for decades with an insurgency even as other northeastern states have become more stable. Last year, 20 soldiers were killed in an attack there.
L. Tonsing, the chief judicial magistrate in Imphal, told Sharmila in court that she was free to do whatever she wanted after she signs a bail bond.
Sharmila’s close associate, Babloo Loitongbam, said she would oppose army misconduct when she was released from detention on Aug. 23.
Authorities said police would maintain an escort for Sharmila because radical groups and rebels were angry with her and had threatened her for ending the strike, seeing it as weakening the fight against the military law.
Sharmila’s decision to end her protest against the law comes as the federal government has asked its forces to exercise restraint in responding to protests in the disputed Kashmir region, where the army has shoot-to-kill powers to fight militants.
Sharmila also plans to get married, she told supporters this year.
(Reporting by Biswajyoti Das, Rupam Jain, Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)