The photo taken on August 20, 2014, shows Indian activist Irom Chanu Sharmila reacting while surrounded by media following her release from a hospital jail in Imphal, India. (AFP)
An Indian woman who has been on hunger strike for nearly 16 years in protest against rights abuses by the government declared Tuesday that she will end the strike and contest the state elections.
“I have decided to end my 16-year fast on August 9 and contest the 2017 state elections as an independent candidate,” 44-year-old Irom Chanu Sharmila said outside a magistrate’s court in Imphal, the main city in the state of Manipur.
“My fight so far has been all alone and so I have decided to wage a war against the act democratically by becoming a lawmaker instead of continuing with my fast,” said Sharmila, who is known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for her unwavering and nonviolent protest against rights abuses.
For more than 14 years, the rights campaigner has been charged by prosecutors with attempted suicide. Officials have kept her in a hospital ward in Imphal, where she is force-fed via a plastic nasal drip several times a day.
She removed the nasal tube in 2014 after a court ordered her free and said there was no evidence that Sharmila wanted to commit suicide by avoiding food. The maximum punishment for attempting suicide is one year in prison in India. The activist has often been released from custody after appearing in court only to be re-arrested almost immediately on repeated charges of attempting to take her own life.
Sharmila began the hunger strike in 2000 after she saw Indian forces killing 10 people, including two children, at a bus stop in Imphal.
She has urged the government over the years to annul the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives Indian forces more freedom in areas such as Manipur and the restive state of Kashmir in the northwest.