Imphal: The Iron Lady of Manipur has announced she will quit politics after receiving just 90 votes in the state’s assembly elections on Saturday.
Following her dismal performance, Irom Sharmila, said: ‘I am fed up with this political system. I have decided to quit active politics.
‘I will move to south India as I need to calm my mind.
‘But I will continue my fight against Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) until and unless it is repealed. But I will fight as a social activist.’
The 44-year-old human rights activist declared her intention to run for a seat after ending a 16 year fast last year.
After spending the best part of this century going hungry, a judge granted her bail and Sharmila put honey to her lips with her own hand in August.
She said she would ‘never forget’ the moment and declared to continue fighting the security act in a different way – through the assembly elections.
However, this proved fruitless for the former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience as she secured 90 votes in the contest for the Thoubal constituency against Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
Sharmila, a clearly determined activist, insisted that despite quitting politics, she will not back down.
She said: ‘I will continue my fight against AFSPA until and unless it is repealed.
‘But I will fight as a social activist.’
During her political campaign, Sharmila said that she wanted to get married as part of her new life after fasting which enraged a section of the people, who had unleashed a barrage of criticism and may have partly contributed to her defeat.
At first glance, her decision to go on hunger strike can be seen as more dramatic than that to eat once again, however can be seen as quite the opposite.
The first attempt at activism was a sudden, emotional decision taken following the tragic deaths of innocent men in Manipur, while the second move was a decision taken slowly after 16 year of hunger and incarceration.
She moved from the vulnerability of her hospital jail to the openness of normal society in order to marry, fight elections and celebrate life.
But the worldwide recognition the Iron Lady gained for fasting gave her a reputation that didn’t allow her to desire these things, and likely led to her political failure.
She claimed her decision to run in the elections was solely driven by her abhorrence of the law, adding: ‘I need power to remove this act. I am the real embodiment of revolution.’
The two other candidates of her newly floated party Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance also lost their deposits as they failed to win less than one sixth of the votes in their constituencies.
But what exactly led her to take such extreme action at the turn of the century?
It was following the deaths of 10 civilians at the hands of Indian paramilitary soldiers in November 2000, that Sharmila decided to go on hunger strike to protest the controversial security law that allows police to shoot first and ask questions later.
Soon after starting her fast, she was charged with attempting suicide and taken into police custody where she was force-fed through a nose tube for 16 years.
An official with Amnesty International India said the fast was ‘a testament to her passion for human rights’.
The official, Abhirr VP, added: ‘The government arrested her, confined her to a hospital room and force fed her for 16 years, seemingly to break her will.
‘There was zero dialogue. A peaceful protest was criminalised.’
The gross abuses of human rights offered by this act are exactly what the Iron Lady of Manipur has been protesting for the most part of the 21st century.
The AFSPA is in effect a number of northeastern territories of India, including Manipur, which has long been plagued by separatist insurgencies and government crackdowns.
The law gives security forces in these regions the right to shoot to kill suspected rebels without fear of possible prosecution and to arrest suspected militants without warrants.