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Human Rights Activist Ends The World’s Longest Hunger Strike

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Elena Weissmann Contributor
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Human rights activist Irom Sharmila licked some honey out of the palm of her hand Tuesday, ending the world’s longest hunger strike.  

Sharmila, nicknamed the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” began her fast 16 years ago in response to a harsh security law in India. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows the military to detain suspects without warrants and shoot on sight. The government has since used a nasal tube to force-feed Sharmila against her will, who was voted the top woman icon of India by MSN Poll.

The 44-year-old woman smiled and then sobbed as she had her first taste of food in over a decade. “I will never forget this moment,” she told reporters.

Authorities had detained Sharmila at a hospital in the Indian state of Manipur on the grounds that her strike counted as attempted suicide, which is illegal by federal law. Her lawyer, Khaidem Mani, had previously fought the charge in court by arguing that a hunger strike is not a crime, citing Mahatma Gandhi’s strike as an example of peaceful protest.

Sharmila was granted bail Tuesday after assuring a judge that she planned to end her 16-year fast, although she will remain at the hospital until an official court order comes through.

Sharmila began the hunger strike in November, 2000, after Indian soldiers allegedly killed 10 civilians in a small village on the outskirts of Imphal, the capital of Manipur. Shocked by the massacre, she intended to change the status quo by protesting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The act remains signed into law, however, and the 2005 Nobel Prize nominee told reporters that she plans to run for office in order to achieve her goal.

“I am the real embodiment of revolution, and I want to be the chief minister of Manipur,” she said. “The foremost thing will be the removal of these draconian laws.”

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