She has a choice of seven houses plus a makeshift camp of a forum that was set up to save her. But if Irom Sharmila changes her mind and decides not to break her 16-year fast on Tuesday, her only option is going back to confinement in a hospital ward for attempt to suicide.
Sharmila, 44, began her fast on November 4, 2000 demanding the repeal of “this act that gives security forces the license to kill”, two days after the Assam Rifles gunned down 10 people at Malom near state capital Imphal.
She had, last month, said she wanted to lead a normal life, get married and be in electoral politics – the second innings of her fight against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958. A local court is expected to release her on Tuesday.
Manipur, the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley specifically, has been divided over her decision. Some want her to carry on fasting for the “greater cause” while others feel telling Sharmila what to do with her life is nobody’s business.
Many believe Sharmila will stay where her mother, the 94-year-old Sakhi Devi who she was closest to before launching the hunger strike. Sakhi Devi stays with Irom Singhajit, Sharmila’s elder brother, in Imphal’s Kongkham locality.
Sharmila, one of Sakhi’s four daughters, is the youngest of nine siblings.
But Sakhi does not know whether or not to welcome her daughter home after almost 16 years. “I am neither sad nor happy (with how things have panned out). She always sought my blessings for anything she wanted to do, like going on fast…”
Singhajit, also the convener of Save Sharmila Campaign, an NGO, chose not to react to her decision and denied he was under pressure to take such a stand. But he said Sharmila has a choice of seven houses of the Irom clan.
“Sharmila began her campaign when we were in our original home a kilometer away in the same locality. That house had 36 members of our extended family then, but seven people stay there now,” he said.
The ‘original house’ – elongated like a school – has eight rooms while Sinhajit’s house has six. The other five houses belonging to Sharmila’s other brothers and cousins have lesser space.
“Where she stays will be clear tomorrow (Tuesday). She might even opt for a makeshift camp of Save Sharmila Campaign (near the hospital where she is in custody) or even with other organisations,” a rights activist, refusing to be quoted, said.