India

Irom Sharmila: I want to be free like a bird and fly

Irom Sharmila holds a press conference after breaking her fast in Imphal, north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, India, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016 Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Irom Sharmila ended her fast on Tuesday

Indian activist Irom Sharmila has said she "felt isolated during years of confinement" and now wants to "connect with people" after ending her 16-year-long hunger strike.

She told the BBC that people "want me to be a martyr" but "I want to be like a bird and fly wherever".

She ended her fast in the north-eastern state of Manipur on Tuesday.

Her campaign against a controversial law had led to her being detained and force-fed through a tube in her nose.

Ms Sharmila had been protesting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives soldiers sweeping powers to arrest without warrants and even shoot to kill in certain situations.

What's next for world's longest hunger striker?

AFSPA is in effect in several Indian states, including in Manipur and Indian-administered Kashmir.

'Like a free bird'

"I am identified as an embodiment of saints. Since the beginning of my fast, there is no change in the mindset of the people. They remain content in making me a symbol of resistance. They wanted me to be a martyr," she said.

"I think I need to change my strategy."

Image copyright AP
Image caption She tasted honey to symbolically break her fast in front of journalists in the hospital

Referring to India's independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, she said he achieved what he did by connecting with the people.

She said she was entering politics because she wanted to change things and realised she needed power to achieve this.

"Without power in my hands, who will hear my voice," she asked?

"If people believe and respect the sacred ballot box, dirtiness in politics will be eradicated. I want to change this atmosphere."

She said she wanted to "be like a bird and fly wherever and perch on any tree I like".

"I am a social being. Why should they want to see me just like a demigod?"

The court in Manipur has granted her bail and asked her to reappear on 23 June.

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