Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila, who has been an international icon for her crusade against the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), ended her 16-year-long fast and announced she wants to become Chief Minister one day — but ironically, couldn’t find a place to stay.
Sharmila, who has been on fast unto death since 2000 to demand lifting of AFSPA from Manipur, got emotional as she licked some honey to mark the ending of her fast, the world’s longest hunger strike.
Earlier, doctors removed the nasal feeding tube through which she was force fed.
Speaking to reporters, including from the foreign media, Sharmila, 42, said: “I will never forget this moment.”
She said she will use everything in her power to create a positive society and the “foremost will be removal of this draconian (AFSPA) law”. The AFSPA gives sweeping powers to security forces.
“I am not a goddess, I want to be a human being. I want to be Chief Minister of Manipur to make a positive difference,” she said.
Asked to comment on the ongoing protests in Jammu and Kashmir, Sharmila said “Let the Kashmiris have the right of self-determination”.
Asked where she will stay now, Sharmila said she will stay in an ashram. She has been living at the J.N. Institute of Medical Sciences for the last 16 years where she was being fed through a nasal tube.
Her mother Sakhi has refused to meet her while her elder brother I. Shinghajit, in an open letter, made an impassioned appeal to her to continue the fast.
Sharmila said she will see her mother only after AFSPA has been repealed from her state.
Sharmila and Desmond Coutinho, a British citizen of Indian origin, have been exchanging letters since 2009. Sharmila has said he loves her and has announced plans to marry.
Ironically, after leaving the J.N. Institute of Medical Sciences, Sharmila had nowhere to go.
Her mother and brother Shinghajit and others have not welcomed her in their homes.
Activist Thiyam Suresh then took Sharmila to his home at Keishampat in Imphal so that she could stay there till alternative arrangements are made.
However, local residents came out and asked Suresh not to keep her there.
The ambulance then took her near the elephant statue in the heart of Imphal city. Significantly, there was no supporter there except for police personnel and reporters. From there she was whisked away to an undisclosed place.
Some women activists of Save Sharmila Group had also come to the court complex. However, it was not to support her as these members have been doing all these years.
Some of them said that they had come to make it known that what Sharmila has done is against their expectation. Anticipating such a development police had beefed up security measures in the court complex and wherever she may go.
Earlier in the day, Sharmila told a court that she wants to end her fast. She was released on bail on Tuesday by L. Tonsing, chief judicial magistrate, Imphal west, where she was produced. She also signed a bond for Rs 10,000.
She told newspersons outside the court that she will contest the 2017 assembly elections from Khurai Assembly constituency as an independent.
Reports say that some local and national parties have sent feelers to her. She has not responded yet.
Doctors are not allowing her to eat normal solid food immediately. One doctor said: “As she has been staying away from normal solid food for over 16 years, we have to take a step by step approach. It will take some days for her to resume normal food.”
Sharmila began her hunger strike in November 2000 following the killing of 10 civilians by security forces.
She was arrested by the Manipur government the same year on charges of attempting to commit suicide.
She has always denied the charge, saying she is using the fast as a weapon.
As the prosecution failed to prove that she was trying to kill herself, the Chief Judicial Magistrate had ordered on February 29, 2016 that she be freed.
She was rearrested on the same charge as she continued the fast.