An Indian rights activist who has waged what is thought to be the world’s longest hunger strike ended her 16-year fast on Tuesday after vowing to continue her struggle by standing for election in her home state.
Irom Sharmila, dubbed the “Iron Lady of Manipur” for her unwavering protest against alleged rights abuses by security forces in the insurgency-hit northeast Indian state, was released on bail after she promised she would end her fast.
The 44-year-old had been held in judicial custody on charges of attempting suicide – still a criminal offence in India – and confined to a hospital where she was force-fed through a nasal tube.
Speaking to journalists outside the court in the Manipur capital Imphal, she said her long campaign had not worked.
“I went on a fast for about 16 years thinking I could change the system, but I now realize that this will not yield any result.
“So I decided to end my fast and join politics and then fight for the cause that I undertook this mission for – justice,” she told journalists, speaking in her native Metei language.
Irom is campaigning for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which covers large parts of the northeast and Kashmir.
It gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight, and has been criticized as a cover for human rights abuses.
The Indian government says security forces need the powers to help them battle multiple rebel groups.
Amnesty International India campaigner Abhirr VP called Irom’s hunger strike “a testament to her passion for human rights, and her belief that a draconian law like the AFSPA has no place in any society.”
Irom began her fast on November 2, 2000 after allegedly witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army near her home.