Face of activism Irom Sharmila faces identity crisis in Manipur

  • Rahul Karmakar & Sobhapati Samom, Hindustan Times, Guwahati / Imphal
  • Updated: Aug 24, 2016 08:07 IST
Activist Irom Sharmila licks honey from her hand to break her fast in Imphal on August 9, 2016. (AP file photo)

She may be India’s best-known rights activist with millions of followers across the world but back home in Manipur, Irom Sharmila has no legal identification document.

The 44-year-old broke a 16-year fast earlier this month, saying she would fight elections to continue her campaign against a controversial law shielding Army personnel from prosecution against even rape and murder charges.

But she has no documents to establish even her citizenship -- no permanent account number (PAN) card, bank account or voter identity card – which are necessary for her to fight the polls.

On Tuesday, she expressed desire to apply for an “identity card” and other necessary documents that will also help her travel outside the state.

“…I plan to attend a mass anti-AFSPA campaign in Delhi…I planning to stay in an ashram for some time and then few days in Ukhrul (Manipur) for the public campaign,” Sharmila told reporters after appearing before chief judicial magistrate (CJM) in Imphal in a case of attempted suicide slapped on her during her marathon fast.

Sharmila’s brother Irom Singhajit, 58, confirmed she has no documents to prove her citizenship. “But she is an Indian at heart and never showed secessionist tendencies during her fast against Afspa,” he told Hindustan Times.

Being Irom Sharmila: The icon who dared to be human and spoke of love

Though criticised by many for allegedly diluting her stand on the law, Sharmila was greeted by a group of youth holding placards reading, “I am with Eche (elder sister) against AFSPA”, and “Justice will prevail”.

Her friends say they have begun the legwork to get Sharmila the documents she needs to prove her citizenship and subsequently enter electoral politics.

“We will probably start working on getting her the documents from tomorrow (Wednesday). She needs the papers to have a mobile phone and be in touch with people who keep inviting her for various rights-related programmes,” said Nandini Thockchom, Sharmila’s activist-friend.

Nandini, who has known Sharmila for three decades, added that a temporary identity card was hurriedly made for Sharmila when she took her fasting to Delhi (Jantar Mantar) 10 years ago.

Another friend said that Sharmila will need a bank account and a PAN card. “Her campaign, if at all she ends up in politics, needs to be crowd-funded…It is unimaginable for anyone without a voter ID to be a people’s representative.”

Sharmila, often called the Iron Lady of Manipur, went on a fast in November 2000 against the “draconian” Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that ensured army personnel didn’t face trial for alleged atrocities against the local population. Her long fast won her worldwide acclaim and a huge following back home.

She broke her fast on August 9, saying she wanted to become chief minister and repeal AFSPA.

Four of her friends stood by the 44-year-old, cooking simple meals for the frail Sharmila and marshalling resources to get documents for the “new chapter” in her life.

“We know she is strong, but even the strongest need reassurance that he or she is not alone,” Nandini said.

The other three--Ranjita, Monica and Ratika--stayed with Sharmila in her hospital ward on August 9.

If people abandon me, I will go away, leave Manipur: Irom Sharmila

Some of them have launched a Facebook page seeking support for the “new journey” Sharmila has undertaken.

Apart from a concoction of nutrients in liquid form, Sharmila has been on a diet of mashed banana, oats, cornflakes and sweetened cucumber.

L Ranbir, the medical superintendent, said Sharmila was fit, physically and mentally. “The adaptation of her body is remarkable.”

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