Sixteen years after starting her hunger strike demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, Irom Chanu Sharmila has decided to end her fast on August 9 and contest the Manipur Assembly elections as an Independent candidate.
The 44-year-old rights activist said she would join politics as she no longer believes her fast would lead to the repeal of the “draconian” Act. “I will end my fast on August 9 and contest the elections as an Independent,” she told journalists, emerging from a court here where she is facing trial for attempting suicide. “I will join politics and my fight will continue,” said Ms. Sharmila, who has refused to eat or drink anything since November 2000, and is force-fed through a nasal tube in Imphal’s Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital. She is in a special ward which serves as her prison.
The Assembly elections are due early next year. Ms. Sharmila also expressed her desire to get married after leaving prison on August 9. Her decision was welcomed by the BJP and the Congress. Many political leaders have met her in the past and tried to persuade her to join politics. The activist has a boyfriend, a British national of Indian origin. On November 2, 2000, an Assam Rifles battalion allegedly killed 10 civilians in a village near Imphal.
days later, Sharmila started a fast, demanding the revocation of the Act which allows security forces to kill a person on suspicion without liability to face trial.
Sharmila’s non-violent resistance inspired collective protest against the Act in the northeastern States. It won her several awards, including the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which is given to “an outstanding person or group, active in the promotion and advocacy of peace, democracy and human rights.”
International organisations like Amnesty International have demanded her release.
Sharmila’s decision took everyone by surprise. Her elder brother Singhajit, who has been with her throughout her struggle, said he had never known she was going to terminate her fast. “I haven’t spoken to her in the last few days because of my bad health. I heard it from others,” he said.
Her long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam, Director of Human Rights Alert Manipur, said he too was taken by surprise but could understand her reasons. “If AFSPA has not been repealed in 15 years of her fast, it won’t happen in another 30 years,” he said.
In 2000, when the activist started her hunger strike, she had vowed not to enter her house or meet her mother till the government repealed the law. Since then, she has met her mother Sakhi Devi only once when she was also admitted to the same hospital in 2009.
Her brother recalled that during the early years of her fast, he often tried to convince her to end it.
(With inputs from Iboyama Laithangbam)