She was hailed as an icon for her 16-year fast that won her legions of supporters at home and acclaim across the world.
But Irom Sharmila found herself lonely within hours of calling off her protest on Tuesday. In an interview to HT, the 44-year-old reflected on her struggle and her days ahead. Excerpts:
People are not happy with your breaking the fast…
Nobody told me to fast then (November 2000). So can’t I make my own decisions now? I anticipated people’s support because I sacrificed my life for a mass cause. When I was released and in need of their support, they remained silent.
Do you foresee a threat to your life?
Everybody dies, I’ll die too. I am optimistic that Manipur will change, and if they want I should be martyred for this change, so be it.
Given the people’s reaction now, did you fast for nothing?
I kept off food and drinks because I believed in the struggle against Afspa ( Armed Forced Special Powers Act). My job is unfinished, and I hoped my supporters would understand I need to change my strategy to achieve my goal. The fasting wasn’t entirely in vain; the Assam Rifles did move out of the historic Kangla Fort (centre of Manipuri pride in Imphal).
People say you deviated from the cause because of love…
It is not about Desmond (Coutinho, British-Indian citizen), who is in Ireland now. It is about an emotional attachment between two people who understand each other. I can never deviate from my first love – Manipur and her people.
Have you heard from him?
We are not in touch for quite some time now.
What does the future hold for you?
I am preparing for the fight ahead; I will spend the rest of my life fighting. But if people abandon me or absolutely ignore me, I will go away, leave Manipur, maybe for love.
Your ward for 16 years is full of books. Which did you read last?
The Constitution of India. I need to know about the rules if I contest elections and am powerful enough to amend it for all forms of violence to end.