Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila’s announcement on Tuesday to end her 16-year-long hunger strike for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, has drawn mixed reactions from her supporters, many of whom are still trying to understand the reason for her decision.
While those close to the 44-year-old greeted her ‘change of strategy’ to end the hunger strike, enter electoral politics and marry ‘to start a new life’, they are still trying to make sense of her decision.
Sharmila had begun her fast in November, 2000, days after Assam Rifles personnel allegedly shot dead 10 civilians at Malom village. She has been force-fed all these years through her nose at a special ward in the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal.
“The news came as a surprise. I heard about it when a friend informed me over phone,” said Irom Singhajit, Sharmila’s elder brother. He insisted that his sister had not consulted anyone from the family before her announcement.
Singhajit, who has been supporting Sharmila’s fight, feels since many others were also closely involved in the 16-year-long struggle, she should have consulted others.
Singhajit hasn’t met Sharmila since she made her announcement.
“She took the decision on her own without taking us or other social activists who were supporting her, into confidence. I would be able to give my views only after talking to her,” he said.
Activists and close associates who have been with Sharmila in her fight to scrap the AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to security forces and has been misused, were also in ‘little bit of shock’ by her move.
“My personal view is that it’s her choice and we should respect it. She has done more for the cause than anyone and since it wasn’t working, Sharmila may have decided to change strategy,” said Sadokpam Ranjeeta, research associate with Human Rights Alert.
While her decision to end the fast and contest elections has been largely welcomed, Sharmila’s desire to marry her Goan-born British boyfriend Desmond Coutinho, hasn’t evoked the same reactions.
Some believe Coutinho, who has been close to Sharmila for nearly seven years, may have played a role in her decision to end the fast.
“He may have influenced Sharmila’s decision. But as an elder brother, I support her decision to marry,” Singhajit said.
Coutinho is a bit of a mystery as Sharmila doesn’t discuss him even with those close to her. He was targeted by some activists two years ago when he came to Imphal to meet Sharmila.