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India’s ‘Iron Lady’ ends 16-year hunger strike to enter politics

Irom Sharmila, dubbed the “Iron Lady of Manipur” for her unwavering protest against rights abuses in the insurgency-hit northeast Indian state, was released on bail after she promised a court she would end her fast.

She had been held in judicial custody on charges of attempting suicide – still a criminal offence in India – and force-fed through a plastic tube.

“I have been released on bail following my personal written bond,” she told journalists outside the court in the Manipur capital Imphal.

Irom is campaigning for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which covers large parts of the northeast and the restive state of Kashmir.

It gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight, and is seen by critics as a cover for human rights abuses.

The Indian government says security forces need the powers to help them battle multiple rebel groups whose long-standing demands range from secession to greater autonomy and land rights.

She began her fast on November 2, 2000 after allegedly witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home.

Two weeks ago she surprised supporters by declaring she would end it to stand in 2017 state elections as an independent candidate.

“My fight so far has been all alone and so I have decided to wage a war against the (AFSPA) act democratically by becoming a lawmaker instead of continuing with my fast,” she told reporters at the time.



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