The sudden decision of civil rights activist Irom Sharmila to end her 16-year-old hunger strike against AFSPA next month and take up active politics has surprised her close associates and family members.
Even her elder brother Singhajit, who has been with her throughout her struggle, said he never knew she was going to take the decision to terminate her fast.
He said he had not spoken to her in the last few days due to his bad health.
Sharmila's long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam, Director of NGO Human Rights Alert Manipur, said he too was taken by surprise but can understand the reason behind her decision.
"If AFSPA has not been repealed in 15 years of her fast then it won't happen in another 30 years also," he said while admitting that he too was not kept informed about her decision.
In 2000, when the activist embarked on her hunger strike, she also had taken a vow to neither enter her house nor meet her mother till the government repealed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Since then, she has met her mother Sakhi Devi only once when she was also admitted to the same hospital in 2009.
Her brother recalled that during the early years of her fast he regularly tried to convince her to end it.
"But she never listened to me. Finally I gave up and promised that I will be with her throughout her struggle. She used to say that she will break her fast only when they remove AFSPA. That was her promise," Singhajit said.
Nobody is sure what prompted her to take the decision. Her associates say her British boyfriend may have played a crucial role in ensuring that she breaks her fast.
"But it is also her frustration at the government for not listening to the demands of the people. So she is changing her path from activism to politics. Her goal remains the same - revocation of AFSPA," another associate said.
A team of her associates is planning to go and meet her at the government-run hospital, where she is forcibly nose-fed to keep her alive to discuss the future course of action.
Sharmila's struggle has been at the heart of all protests against repel of AFSPA in the Manipur and the neighbouring North-eastern states.
Today, in a surprise announcement, Irom said, "I will break my fast as the government has failed to give any positive response,” adding that she would now fight the upcoming state elections to resolve the issues.
She was re-arrested on March 2, just two days after she was released when a court found her not guilty of the charge of attempt to commit suicide.
Sharmila began her non-violent protest in November 2000 after 10 people including two children were killed by troops of the Assam Rifles near a bus stop at Malom, on the outskirts of Imphal.
AFSPA, which is in effect in many parts of northeastern India and Kashmir, gives security forces sweeping powers to search and shoot on sight. The act is criticised for allegedly allowing security personnel to abuse human rights.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court strongly rebuked the army, saying it cannot use “excessive or retaliatory force” even in troubled areas. With regards to Manipur, it said the situation was never a “war-like” threat to national security that warranted the act.