Sitting in her room at the high-security ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, Imphal, Irom Sharmila, 37, looked calm. Officially, she is in the custody of the Central Jail, Sajiwa, Imphal. On November 5, she will enter the 10th year of her uninterrupted hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), mischievously renamed ‘Sharmila Act’ by the police. Sharmila started her fast in 2000 after the security forces killed 10 innocent civilians at Malom, a village near Imphal. No one was punished.
Sharmila is being kept alive through force-feeding.
In a month’s time, you will enter the 10th year of your fast. How did you manage to keep going all these years?
It hasn’t been that difficult. I am doing it for the sake of justice. I get strength from doing yoga regularly.
What’s daily life like for you?
It’s simple and boring. I am allowed to walk in the corridors but not out of those collapsible gates. The securitymen are very timid; they don’t allow me outside. Recently, some people came in and warned me that I should stop the hunger strike. I don’t know who they were; they just wanted to break my spirit.
Has anything improved in Manipur from the time you started your fast?
The general public has understood what is happening in Manipur. They are more involved now. But very little has changed on the political side. Recently, four Bharatiya Janata Party MPs came to meet me and supported my struggle. But I understand that it’s all a political game.
During the National Democratic Alliance rule at the Centre (1998-2004), Bijoya Chakraborty, who was Union Minister of State for Water Resources, came here twice and asked me to call off my fast. But this time around she said she would agitate against the AFSPA and also talked about the situation in Manipur.
Our democratic government is a fake one. In Manipur, people are poor and without jobs. But the government’s mind is only on anti-insurgency operations and how to make more money.
What do you want to achieve from this struggle?
My struggle is for changing the state of Manipur. In this field of war, I am crying for peace. First, there must be justice for the people, who have suffered so much. Our government wants to weed out insurgents, but that’s impossible; they never try to communicate with the people. Insurgency will go only if the political trend changes from moneymaking to true devotion to welfare.
Don’t you miss your family?
I don’t think about my family much. I have not met my mother for the past nine years. I don’t meet my brother also. I am a simple girl with no physical strength but I am focused on what I am doing. This single-minded focus gives me strength.
The insurgents also have made life difficult for the people
Yes, they have. Why should they extort and base their patriotism on money? But I sincerely believe that political dialogue with insurgents is necessary. People say I am extraordinary. But like me, the present government is also extraordinary. However, before anything else, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh must go.