Woman ends 16-year hunger strike to run in India elections

A 44-year-old woman who has been on hunger strike for nearly 16 years in protest at alleged brutality by India’s military has said she will end her fast and run in state elections.

Irom Sharmila told a court in the north-eastern state of Manipur that she will give up her fast on August 9 and stand as an independent candidate in elections early next year.

Ms Sharmila has not eaten any food voluntarily since November 5, 2000, when she began her protest against a law that suspends many human rights protections in areas of conflict.

Three days earlier, 10 civilians had been killed by paramilitary troops in Malom, a small town on the outskirts of Imphal, the Manipur state capital.

Three days after she started her hunger strike, she was arrested on charges of attempting suicide — a crime in India — and prison officials at a government hospital in Manipur have since force-fed her through a tube in her nose.

“The only way to bring change is electoral process. I will stand as an independent candidate from Malom constituency,” Ms Sharmila told reporters outside the court, according to a statement from Amnesty International.

She said the single issue on her agenda would be the removal of the law that allows the military to act with impunity.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in effect in Indian-ruled Kashmir and north-eastern areas dogged by separatist insurgencies.

The law says troops have the right to shoot to kill suspected rebels without fear of possible prosecution, and to arrest suspected militants without a warrant.

It also gives police wide-ranging powers of search and seizure.

It prohibits soldiers from being prosecuted for alleged rights violations unless granted express permission from the federal government. Such prosecutions are rare.

Ms Sharmila has spent most of her detention in hospital, where doctors make sure her condition is stable. She is also required to report to a local court every 15 days.

Her long hunger strike has garnered support from across the world, and Amnesty International has called her a prisoner of conscience.


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