A human right activist in India, Sharmila Irom, on Tuesday reportedly ended a 16-year hunger strike she embarked on as protest against alleged rights abuses by security forces in the insurgency-hit northeast Indian state.
The 44-year-old woman began her fast on November 2, 2000 after allegedly witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home.
Irom, nicknamed ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’ had been held in judicial custody at the court in the Manipur capital Imphal on charges of attempting suicide, which is considered a criminal offence in India.
Amnesty International in 2013 declared her a Prisoner of Conscience and she has received several prestigious international prizes, including a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission.
During the period of her hunger strike protest, which is thought to be the world’s longest, Irom was confined to a hospital where she was force-fed through a nasal tube.
After the court hearing ton Tuesday, Irom was taken back to the hospital where she spent much of the past 16 years to complete the legal formalities of her bail.
In his judgement, Magistrate Lamkkhanpau Tonsing said Irom was released on grounds that she submitted bail of 10,000 rupees ($150) and a written pledge to stop her fast.
“She was released on bail after she promised a court she would end her fast,” the Magistrate said.
Irom, who had earlier surprised supporters by declaring she would end it to stand as an independent candidate in state elections to be held next year, told journalists outside the court that her long campaign had not worked.
With the plastic tubing still taped to her nose and feeble, speaking in her native Metei language, Irom told reporters, “I am campaigning for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, which covers large parts of the northeast and the restive state of Kashmir.
“My fight so far has been all alone and so I have decided to wage a war against the AFSPA act democratically by becoming a lawmaker instead of continuing with my fast.
“I went on a fast for about 16 years thinking I could change the system, but I now realise 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.
“I would like to marry my fiance, a British national of Indian origin who I met after starting my fast.
Meanwhile, doctors said she will need medical help to begin eating again, having stayed without food for 16 years.