India's Irom Sharmila, The World's Longest Hunger Striker, Finally Freed From Prison

CHINO, CA - AUGUST 19: A fence is seen at The California Institution for Men prison on August 19, 2009 in Chino, California. After touring the prison where a riot took place on August 8th, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that the prison system is collapsing and needs to be reformed. (Photo by Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images)
Source: Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Four years ago, she was already known as "the world's longest hunger striker," and she's still going strong today. After being in and out of jail for the duration of her 14-year hunger strike, India's Irom Sharmila is finally free. Sharmila started her protest in November 2000, having witnessed the army kill 10 people at a bus stop near her home in Manipur, India. Soon after she began her strike, Sharmila was arrested for attempted suicide, a charge that the court finally recognized as baseless. Her prison time may be over, but her fight is not.

Hunger strikes are often staged in prison as a way to protest cruel or unfair treatment of inmates, but for Sharmila, her hunger strike was the reason she was sentenced. On Nov. 2, 2000, she witnessed the incident now known as the "Malom Massacre," in which Indian soldiers indiscriminately killed 10 civilians using Assam Rifles. In response, Sharmila staged a hunger strike to protest the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives soldiers the authority to use force, even if it causes death, for the maintenance of public order. 

That's not the only controversial law that Sharmila has battled. Under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, attempted suicide is punishable by law, and when Sharmila started refusing food or water, authorities considered it an attempt to end her life.

"There has been a consistent position where activists have been saying that she is not taking her life, she is making a political point which is to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)," Babloo Loitangbam, a human rights activist, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

On Tuesday, a court in Manipur's capital of Imphal finally recognized that there was no basis for the attempted suicide charge. Now known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, Sharmila, who has been force-fed through a tube for 14 years as she remained steadfast in her protest, is awaiting confirmation of her release from a higher court. Before she continues her fight as a free citizen, get to know the two laws that put her in prison:

Armed Forces Special Powers Act

The AFSPA covers a large portion of northeastern India and Kashmir. Under the law, an officer of the armed forces has the power to enter and search any premises, to arrest anyone who is reasonably suspected of having committed a cognizable offense, and to fire upon or use other force against any person who is acting in contravention of the law. Essentially, the law authorizes Indian soldiers to shoot on sight.  

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code

Under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who attempts to commit suicide and carries out any act that is meant to contribute to the offense will be punished by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine. In 2011, the government announced that it would amend the law and earlier this summer they began effacing Section 309 of IPC. 

Images: NDTV/YouTube

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