Irom Sharmila: India's marathon fast woman wants to vote

Irom Sharmila Chanu Irom Sharmila Chanu supports the new anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party

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Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been fasting for 13 years against a draconian law in India's north-eastern state of Manipur, says she wants to cast her vote for the first time.

Her state, Manipur, is going to polls in the ongoing nine-phase general election on Thursday.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), against which Ms Chanu is protesting, gives sweeping powers to the security forces when they fight separatist insurgents or leftist radicals - powers which critics say are often misused.

"I didn't think much of my voting rights earlier, but now I feel the value of my one vote. I want to cast my vote," she tells me, in her small hospital room in the capital, Imphal, where she has been force-fed through a pipe in her nose since November 2000.

But her wish will be denied as Indian laws prohibit people in custody from voting in an election.

Ms Chanu, 42, says she never voted as she had lost faith in democracy, but the rise of the new anti-corruption party, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has changed her view.

'Things will change'

The AAP made a surprisingly strong showing in the state elections in Delhi in December by promising to fight corruption, and now has ambitions to repeat its success against major political parties in the ongoing general election.

"I heard about the work of the AAP when they governed Delhi for a little over a month, in the 49 days they ruled for common people and I believe if they come to power, things will change in the parliament too," Ms Chanu says.

"Also as far as Afspa goes, they know what I want and they regard my struggle."

Earlier, the AAP had offered her a ticket to contest the election, but she refused.

"I don't want to enter politics, I want to be a simple woman."

Ms Chanu says she should be freed and allowed to continue her protest.

"Mahatma Gandhi was allowed to disagree by going on hunger strikes, but I am not. I feel discriminated against as an Indian citizen. I want to be freed to continue my protest outside this hospital."

Ms Chanu began her fast 13 years ago after 10 civilians were killed by Indian soldiers in Manipur.

The state has a population of about 2.5 million people and a huge force of army, paramilitary and state police are deployed there to fight at least 12 insurgent groups since 1980.

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