Indian activist ends 16-year hunger strike with a lick of honey

One of India’s most prominent political activists has ended a 16-year hunger strike, licking honey from her hand and declaring: “I will never forget this moment.”

Irom Chanu Sharmila had been fed through a tube in her nose and held by police since 2000, when she began her fast to protest against a draconian security law – the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – that gives immense power to security forces in the north-eastern state of Manipur.

On Tuesday a judge granted her bail after she assured him that she would end her fast. Hours later, she appeared at a news conference, the nose tube already removed, and tasted the honey.

She said she plans to run in the next Manipur state elections, in early 2017, to fight to have the security act struck down.

“I need power to remove this act,” said Sharmila, 44. “I am the real embodiment of revolution.”

Asked how she felt to finally eat, she said: “I will never forget this moment.”

Sharmila started the hunger strike in November 2000 after the Malom massacre in a small village on the outskirts of Imphal, in which 10 people were reportedly killed by a government-controlled paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles. She was charged with attempting suicide, a crime in India.

It is thought that the decision to end her strike was influenced by a British-Indian boyfriend, Desmond Coutinho. Sharmila has been released from custody sporadically over the past decade and a half, but only a handful of people have been allowed to visit her in recent months.

The end of the hunger strike coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Quit India movement, a symbolic day of remembrance for India’s struggle for freedom against British rule. Choosing to end the fast on the same day has been interpreted by some as a sign of her disillusionment with India’s democratic process.

Sharmila announced last week that she planned to end the fast and run for political office.

On Tuesday, an official with Amnesty International India said the fast was “a testament to her passion for human rights”.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in effect in Indian-ruled Kashmir and in a number of north-eastern areas facing separatist insurgencies. The law gives security forces the right to shoot to kill suspected rebels without fear of possible prosecution and to arrest suspected militants without warrants. It also gives police wide-ranging powers of search and seizure.

Associated Press contributed to this report