Amnesty International’s ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ Irom Chanu Sharmila ended her 16-year-long hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) on Tuesday. While her decision to do so should have been accepted in the right spirit, “radical groups” have criticised for her “surprising” decision. This is unfair. What Irom Sharmila wants to do with her life is her decision; she must not be asked to bear the Afspa cross for ever.
For those looking for reasons behind her decision, the 44-year-old’s comments provide some clues. At a hearing in a local court, Irom Sharmila said: “I have been fasting for the last 16 years. I haven’t got anything from it yet. I am ending my fast today. I want to try a different agitation now. I will contest against the chief minister of Manipur in the upcoming state elections.”
Later to the media, she said: “I am being seen as a strange woman. Why can’t people see me as an ordinary person? I am cut off from everyone,” she said. “People say politics is dirty but so is society.”
While Irom Sharmila’s ‘I want to be CM and repeal Afspa’ a bit far-fetched , I think her comments shows not only her sadness for failing to change the course of history but also desperation to get out the “cage” (as she once described her situation in a poem), how utterly lonely her walk has been till now and how the people of Manipur (yes, Manipur too) --- and more importantly of the country --- have not been supportive enough of her cause.
In fact, to me, the despair in her words and voice shows that India has failed Irom Sharmila and not vice versa.
And, who was keeping her cut off from everyone? It is well known that Irom Sharmila became a brand name of sorts for human rights activists and, if she now thinks that she has been ‘used’ by people around her, it’s a sad commentary on how petty the business of human rights can be.
By ending her fast, Irom Sharmila has handed over the baton of the struggle against Afspa to the people. If the cause is strong enough, it will continue on its own steam, with or without Irom Sharmila’s fast.
Those who are carping needlessly about her decision must realise that Irom Sharmila has not abandoned the cause; she has decided to change her game plan.
And those who are saying that her love interest has been planted by the Indian government to wean her from the struggle are belittling her superhuman efforts to scrap Afspa.