Irom Sharmila the starving human rights activist
A human-rights activist who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 16 years to protest alleged brutality by India’s military is expected to end her fast on Tuesday.
Irom Sharmila, 44, announced last month that she would start eating on Aug. 9 and that she intends to stand as an independent candidate in elections early next year.
Sharmila has not eaten any food voluntarily since Nov. 5, 2000, when she began her protest against an Indian law that suspends many human rights protections in areas of conflict. Soldiers enjoy wide powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight under the colonial-era law.
Three days before starting her hunger strike, 10 civilians were killed by paramilitary troops in Malom, a small town on the outskirts of Imphal, the Manipur state capital.
Within three days, 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.
85 year old mother to Irom
Babloo Loitongbam, a close associate of Sharmila, told Reuters last month that “she will start eating on August 9 and change the entire strategy of her protest.”
Known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” Sharmila said the single issue on her agenda would be the removal of the law that allows the military to act with impunity.
“The only way to bring change is electoral process,” Sharmila said last month, according to a statement from Amnesty International.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in effect in Indian-ruled Kashmir and northeastern areas wracked 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 prohibits soldiers from being prosecuted for alleged rights violations unless granted express permission from the federal government. Such prosecutions are rare.
Sharmila has spent most of her detention in the hospital, where doctors make sure her condition is stable. She also is required to report to a local court every 15 days.
Her long hunger strike has garnered her support from across the world, and Amnesty International has called her a prisoner of conscience.
“Sharmila will fight the battle to free the state from the clutches of the army on the streets of Manipur,” Loitongbam added.