‘Iron Lady’ Sharmila ends 16-year hunger strike with honey

Aug 10, 2016
Indian political activist Irom Sharmila licks honey from her hand to break her fast in Imphal, north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, India, on Tuesday, Aug 9, 2016.
Indian political activist Irom Sharmila licks honey from her hand to break her fast in Imphal, north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, India, on Tuesday, Aug 9, 2016.

A few drops of honey is how Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila on Tuesday ended her epic 16-year old hunger strike to protest alleged military abuses.

Now she wants to build up the strength to run for political office next year.

Sharmila, 43, has not eaten for years as a protest against an immunity law covering Indian military in the country’s conflict zones such as her home state, the northeastern state of Manipur, where a separatist rebellion has raged for nearly four decades.

“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 broke down as she stared at a bottle of honey.

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

Popularly known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” Sharmila has staged the most powerful protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

India gives its troops sweeping powers to shoot and arrest in insurgency-hit areas in states like Manipur and Kashmir, but it also protects them from prosecution.

The Indian government has said her protest amounts to suicide and has force-fed her through a nasal tube for years.

Sharmila plans run in the state elections scheduled to be held next year.

“I need power to remove the black law,” Sharmila said referring to the immunity provisions.

But not everybody is happy with Sharmila’s new path.

A secessionist group called the Alliance for Socialist Unity said in a statement this week that other activists had been assassinated when they joined politics.

“People remain negative towards me, about my new decision,” said Sharmila, and added that they want to see her continuing as “just a symbol of resistance.”

“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.”

Policewomen escort Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila as she arrives at a court in the northeastern city of Imphal, India, on Tuesday Aug 9, 2016.
Policewomen escort Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila as she arrives at a court in the northeastern city of Imphal, India, on Tuesday, Aug 9, 2016.

Human Rights Watch has called India to repeal the immunity law, saying India’s troops “routinely engage in torture and other ill-treatment during interrogation in army barracks.

The law forbids prosecution of soldiers without approval from the central government, which is rarely granted.”

Senior army officers have said that they cannot fight terrorist groups with their hands tied and have opposed the removal of the special immunity law.

India has a long and rich history of activists using hunger strike as a tool of protest, right from the days of Gandhi during the decades-long freedom movement that ended British rule in the 1940s.

Environmentalists and anti-corruption protesters have used this method to draw attention to their causes.

When a reporter asked Sharmila how it felt to eat after so many years, she replied: “I will never forget this moment.”

Source: The Washington Post

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