Indian activist known as ‘Iron Lady’ ends 16-year hunger strike

NEW DELHI, Aug. 9 (UPI) — A human rights activist in India ended her nearly 16-year hunger strike on Tuesday.

Sharmila, known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” hadn’t eaten any food voluntarily since Nov. 5, 2000, when she began protesting India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act that suspends many human rights protections in areas of conflict. Soldiers are allowed to search, enter property and shoot on sight under the colonial-era law.

“I want to drink something in front of the world,” Sharmila said at a news conference in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur. Then she stared at a bottle of honey.

“Please give her some time. She is sentimental,” a doctor said to the media.

Last month, Irom Sharmila, 44, announced she would resume eating Tuesday and plans to run for state elected office next year.

Three days before her hunger strike, on Nov. 2, 2000, 10 civilians were killed by paramilitary troops in Malom, a small town near the Manipur state capital.

She was arrested on charges of attempting suicide — a crime in India — and prison officials at a government hospital in Manipur have force-fed nutrition through a tube in her nose.

Amnesty International has called her a prisoner of conscience.

Human Rights Watch has called India to repeal the immunity law because “soldiers have killed innocents, creating a climate of rage among ordinary people,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the group’s South Asia director wrote.

“Ending impunity by replacing AFSPA with a better, rights-respecting law is the best way to address the public discontent that only leads to popular distrust and cynicism, and can fuel further militancy.

A secessionist group, the Alliance for Socialist Unity, warned Sharmila about running for office because others have been assassinated when they entered politics.

“Let them kill me, the way people killed Mahatma Gandhi … the way they killed Jesus Christ,” Sharmila said. “With that blood let them voice their dark emotions, their negative feelings towards me.”

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