Standing in the aisle with threats and protests on one side, and supports on the other, the Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Chanu Sharmila, finally broke her epic 16-year-long fast today in Imphal. Her decision, however, grows questions to her supporters, one of which is, how being a part of political system, that betrayed her cause for years, would bring change in the struggle?
In her more than one-and-half decade long fast, she refused even a single drop of water in her thirsty mouth, as she believes that repealing AFSPA would be her paramount objective, which only would make her breathe freely.
Not only the 16 year-long fast, she also refused to meet her mother, Shakhi, who she thinks would weaken her strength to fight against the ‘inhuman’ act, she neither comb her hair nor she looked in the mirror, since the day she took the way “less taken” in quest of the peace in the state. Ema Sakhi, in return, also decided not to meet her daughter till AFSPA is removed, blessing her daughter the strength to fulfill her dream.
The 44-year-old ‘peace protester’ has been confined to Room no.1 of the Special Ward, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, in Imphal, and forced fed against her will, using a Nasogastric intubation since 2000. Sharmila was termed a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International and won many awards for her prolonged hunger strike.
On July 26 this year, Sharmila announced that she would end her fast on August 9, get married and join politics instead, to fight Indian army atrocities in the state. Not only her admirers and worshipers who aren’t just limited to her home state Manipur, her supporters across the country at large and world at large was taken by surprise on her abrupt announcement at District magistrate court in Imphal West, commonly known as Cheirap Court.
Babloo Loitongbam, a close associate of Sharmila and also Director of Human Rights Alert, expressed that he has not much to comment regarding her decision.
“Will see what comes next. If she continues her protest against the AFSPA, we are ready to support. If she expressed her intention to give up the struggle and settle her life, get married, there is nothing we can comment. We cannot either force her to continue the protest or force her to stop the protest, it would be her wish,” Babloo tells Narada News.
During her epic struggle, political parties from across the country, in a bid to take advantage, tried many a time to persuade her to contest election as a face of their respective political party, which she refused every time. They promised, taking photo-op, that the act will be repealed once they come in power. Unfortunately, they all turned their back on the issue after poll results.
Asked his opinion on why she set 9 August to discontinue her fast, why not on July 26 , the day she she announced her decision, Babloo said he has spoken to Irom Sharmila and asked the same question.
She( Sharmila) said she wants to know how public reacts to her decision before she finally broke her fast, Babloo narrates. Babloo added that she, however, didn’t put the option to continue or discontinue her fast following public reactions, it seems like she just want to know how supportive the public is, for whom, she has been fighting for the last one and half decade.
When asked how is she planning to contest the election, Babloo said it is very early to comment as he hasn’t got the enough time to speak to crusader about the matter.
“ I got the chance to meet her hardly 5 minutes. So, there is nothing certain which I can comment regarding her entering into politics. Let’s wait for a week or two after she broke her fast. It wouldn’t be appropriate to assume on how she is planning to contest the election and her strategy,” Babloo concludes.
Speaking to reporters as she breaks her fast, Irom Sharmila today has expressed that she wants to become the Chief Minister of the state and remove the act from the soil of Manipur. But the question is what would she do if she, unfortunately, faces defeat in the upcoming Manipur poll? Would she start a fresh hunger strike? What would be her next plan?
Soon after Sharmila announced her decision to break her fast on July 26, a Manipur-based radical social organisation warned the iconic activist against contesting elections and marrying an “outsider”.
A lesser known group, Alliance for Socialist Unity, Kangleipak, reminded her that “some former revolutionary leaders were assassinated” after deviating from the cause and getting elected as people’s representatives.
Two other militant outfits, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), have also urged Sharmila to continue the fast.
“All those who joined electoral politics did so knowing well that it was a dead-end,” ASUK chairman N Oken and vice-chairman Kshetri Laba Meitei, said in a public statement.
On November 2, 2000, ten innocent civilians who were waiting for public transport in a bus stop in Malom, were sprayed with bullets, by a troop of Assam Rifles.
The incident of brutality struck a sharp chord with the then 28-year-old woman, Sharmila, who, upon seeing the severity of the situation, embarked her journey of taking the road less taken, deciding that, she will forego food and water, until the AFSPA that licensed such heinous brutality is abrogated.
Since then, Irom Sharmila Chanu, who was on a religious fast on that fateful Thursday, vowed to continue her fast till the act was removed from the state.
She has been repeatedly arrested by the Manipur police several times in almost 16 years on charges of “attempt to commit suicide”.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958: The controversial AFSPA, that faces flakes from human rights provides limitless powers to security forces, to use force to arrest anyone without a warrant, shoot at sight at anyone on the mere suspicion that someone has committed or was about to commit a cognisable offence. In addition to this, the act prohibits any legal or judicial proceedings against army personnel, without the sanction of the Central Government.
Moving on by making a new chart to continue her struggle, the “living icon of mass struggle” has chosen another route leaving the old path, to run for the office in the upcoming Manipur Assembly Election 2017 as an independent candidate and fight politically. She might have realised that the Indian political systems wouldn’t heed to her cause by her non violent protest.
The “icon of resistance” has given up her fast, but this doesn’t mean she gives up her fight against the AFSPA 1958. After all, her decision left many questions hanging in the air about the fate the “poster woman of the Anti-AFSPA movement and the state.