Irom Sharmila to End Hunger Strike on August 9; Family Surprised by Announcement

The activist began her hunger strike in November 2000 after 10 civilians were gunned down by Assam Rifles soldiers at a bus stop in Malom, Imphal.

Irom Sharmila. Credit: Akhil Kumar

Irom Sharmila. Credit: Akhil Kumar

New Delhi: Manipuri human rights activist Irom Sharmila has said that she will break her hunger strike on August 9. She has been fasting for close to 16 years now, demanding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, be repealed in the state. Sharmila began her strike in November 2000 after 10 civilians were gunned down by Assam Rifles soldiers at a bus stop in Malom, Imphal.

According to a CNN News18 report, Sharmila told reporters outside the Imphal court on Tuesday that she will break her fast and contest in the Manipur elections.

The 44-year-old activist has been in custody for almost that entire duration of her hunger strike, released and rearrested almost immediately every year so that she can be fed through a nasal tube. She has been charged multiple times with section 309 of the IPC for attempting to commit suicide, kept in custody for 365 days (the maximum punishment under section 309), released for a few days and then rearrested with fresh charges under the same section. She has stated time and again that she is not guilty of the charges against her, as hers is a peaceful protest and not an attempt to end her own life.

“My conscience keeps me going,” Sharmila had earlier told The Wire. “People often want to know where my strength comes from – it is from my belief in a humanity where everyone lives with dignity, peace and love. Everyone should experience the wonders of life, we have to share these with each other.”

Speaking to The Wire from Manipur, Sharmila’s brother Irom Singhajit said, “The news has taken us by surprise. Since I am unwell for some time, I couldn’t go to the court today. I met her last month, she didn’t mention anything about it and then we hear today that she is breaking her fast on August 9.” Sharmila, presented to the court every month, will appear again on August 9.

Human rights activist Bablo Loithangbam, who is thought to be close to Sharmila, also expressed surprise at the news. “We still don’t know any details. Whatever I have gathered from news reports is that she plans to fight the next assembly elections as an independent. We can’t confirm the news from her at once as she is under detention,” he told this correspondent. Loithangbam, however, added, “It may be that she has decided to change her turf as the state is not listening. She now wants to enter the political arena to make the state listen to her.” He said “Sharmila was offered a seat by various political parties” in the last assembly elections too, but had refused all.

Singhajit said, “The decision to begin fast was her own and if at all she decides to end it, it will be hers alone. She has no pressure from the family to continue her fast.” Sharmila reportedly wants to marry a 53-year old British-Indian writer-activist, Desmond Coutinho. “If she wants to marry him, she has every right to do it. I met him last in 2011 and never seen him after that,” said Singhajit

Sharmila’s mother, 83-year-old Shakhi Devi, who lives with Singhajit, “has not been told of the news yet”. She has not met her daughter since she began fast in 2000.