A 44-year-old activist who had been on a hunger strike for almost 16 years to protest alleged brutality by India’s military in the country’s northeastern state of Manipur ended her protest on Tuesday.
Irom Sharmila said that she plans to stand as an independent candidate in elections early next year.
Sharmila had 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. Three days earlier, 10 civilians were 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, which is illegal in India. Her lawyer has denied that Sharmila was trying to commit suicide, insisting that her hunger strike was a form of protest.
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,” said Sharmila, who is also known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur.”
She said the single issue on her agenda would be the removal of a law that allows the military to act with impunity.
‘Prisoner of conscience’
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in effect in Indian-ruled Kashmir and northeastern areas wracked by separatist rebellions.
The law says troops have the right to shoot to kill suspected rebels without fear of possible prosecution and to arrest suspected fighters 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.
Sharmila has spent most of her detention in the hospital, where doctors made sure her condition was stable. She is also required to report to a local court every 15 days.
Her long hunger strike garnered support from across the world, and Amnesty International has called her a prisoner of conscience.

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