After spending 16 years of her life on a bed with a feeding tube attached to her nose, Irom Chanu Sharmila took her first step towards a life outside hospital on Saturday.
The 44-year-old human rights crusader said she would continue her crusade against AFSPA – a law that virtually gives security personnel the authority to raid, arrest and even kill – albeit on a different tack. She would now stand for elections, and bring down the hated piece of legislation through democratic means.
Sharmila broke her fast with a dab of honey on August 9, an act that evoked mixed reactions from her supporters. Many believed this amounted to reneging from a fight she had undertaken on the behalf of her supporters way back in 2000.
She now resides at the picturesque Nature Cure Centre on the foothills of the Langol hill range, about six kilometers from JNIMS Hospital – where she was kept since the day she broke her fast. Doctors are monitoring her diet because her digestive system has been inactive for the last 16 years. “The hospital authority officially discharged Sharmila this morning. But we do not know how long she will be staying here,” a friend said.
In an interview held earlier, Sharmila had told the reporters that she would stay at the centre for three to four days before moving to Ukhrul, a hill town, for holding a public campaign against AFSPA. On her way to the Nature Cure Centre, the activist – better known as the Iron Lady of Manipur – was driven by her supporters to the historic Kangla fort in Imphal for a brief prayer session. She also attended a reception at Keishamthong.
Responding to the warm welcome accorded to her by residents of the area, mostly womenfolk and social activists, Sharmila said: “I think one should change to bring about a change. So I hope the people will understand and cooperate, considering that I have already extended my hand for a joint movement.”
Meanwhile, Sharmila’s supporters have begun applying for legal documents on her behalf – so she can respond to invitations for public campaigns from various quarters. “We are planning to apply for a voter’s ID, followed by the Aadhaar card. The authorities have promised to give us the voter’s ID by January next year,” a young supporter said.