'Iron Lady of Manipur': World's longest hunger strike ends

Indian rights activist Irom Sharmila was on a hunger strike for 16 years.

Story highlights

  • Irom Sharmila may run for political office
  • She was protesting law giving military sweeping search and detention powers
  • Government had been force-feeding her through nasal drip

(CNN)With a lick of some honey that was spooned onto her palm, human rights activist Irom Sharmila on Tuesday ended her 16-year hunger strike in India -- the longest such fast in the world.

Sharmila, known as the "Iron lady of Manipur," first smiled and then sobbed before she ate the honey in front of reporters in India's northeastern Manipur state, finally free of the nasal tube that the government had used to force-feed her for more than a decade.
    "I will never forget this moment," she said.
    The 2005 Nobel Prize nominee started her strike in 2000, after 10 civilians allegedly were killed by Indian soldiers in Manipur. She was protesting India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to the military to search properties, detain suspects without warrants and even shoot on sight.
    But she has finally relented, saying that she'll focus on running for political office to effect change.
    "I am the real embodiment of revolution, and I want to be the chief minister of Manipur," she told reporters in the city of Imphal. "The foremost thing will be the removal of these draconian laws."

    Had been in custody to prevent death

    With her decision to eat willingly, Sharmila also earned her freedom. She had been in judicial custody at a hospital, following 14 arrests on the grounds that she was illegally trying to kill herself through the hunger strike.
    Federal law makes attempted suicide illegal, so authorities force-fed her through a drip in her nose.
    On Tuesday, she told a court of her intention to end the strike, so a judge released her on a bail of 10,000 Indian rupees ($149). She'll remain at the hospital temporarily until an official court order comes through, Human Rights Alert Executive Director Babloo Ioitongbam said.
    Sharmila said she intended to settle in an ashram, or religious center, rather than go home.
    She had previously fought the attempted-suicide charge that kept her in custody. In 2014, her lawyer, Khaidem Mani, challenged it, citing the country's history of hunger strikes.
    In court that year, he referenced how Mahatma Gandhi used the same mode of protest during the nation's independence struggle. He also argued that hunger strike was not a crime.
    The magistrate ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove she was attempting to commit suicide. In doing so, he overturned a lower court's attempt to put her on trial for attempted suicide.
    After the court ordered her release, Sharmila resumed her hunger strike, according to her lawyer, and she was placed back into custody.
    Supporters of Sharmila shout slogans outside the  New Delhi court where she made an appearance in March 2013. The activist rejected suicide charges put against her by the Delhi government.
    It is believed that she will campaign as an independent candidate in an election due to take place next year in Manipur, an impoverished, landlocked state in India's remote northeastern belt.
    For years, many Manipuri tribal communities have resisted the authority of Delhi, claiming they have suffered neglect from the central government. This disaffection has given rise to occasional outbreaks of violence.