Irom Sharmila’s sudden decision to end her 16-year-old hunger strike against AFSPA next month has taken everyone by surprise, including her family members and close associates.
Irom’s elder brother Singhajit, who has been with her throughout her struggle said he never knew she was going to terminate her fast.
“I haven’t spoken to her in the last few days due to my bad health. I heard it from others about her decision,” he told a news agency.
Sharmila’s long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam, Director of NGO Human Rights Alert Manipur, said he too was taken by surprise but can understand the reason behind her decision.
“If AFSPA has not been repealed in 15 years of her fast then it won’t happen in another 30 years also,” he said while admitting that he too was not informed about her decision.
In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan said: “We welcome Irom Sharmila’s decision to end her fast. Fasting is a Gandhian way of protesting, but “life” is equally precious. If she steps into electoral politics she would play a useful role in the democratic process.”
CPI(M) central committee member Nilotpal Basu also welcomed her decision. “We also hope that as a people’s representative she will have moral authority and courage to make a difference in the life of Manipuris,” Basu added.
However, some activists have raised serious questions about Sharmila’s judgement on the issue.
“ If the intention was to contest election why did she go on hunger strike for 16 years. Her strike did little except for raising awareness about AFSA. She could have negotiated with the government on repealing AFSA earlier instead of continuing with her hunger strike. Not only the continuation of strike was an error of judgement, so is the decision to contest elections,“ said Suhas Chakma of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR).
In 2000 when the activist embarked on her hunger strike, she also had taken a vow to neither enter her house nor meet her mother till the government repealed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Since then, she has met her mother Sakhi Devi only once when she was also admitted to the same hospital in 2009.
Her brother recalled that during the early years of her fast he regularly tried to convince her to end it. “But she never listened to me. Finally I gave up and promised that I will be with her throughout her struggle. She used to say that she will break her fast only when they removeAFSPA. That was her promise,” Singhajit said.
Nobody is sure what prompted her to take the decision. Her associates say her British boyfriend may have played a crucial role in ensuring that she breaks her fast.
“But it is also her frustration at the government for not listening to the demands of the people. So she is changing her path from activism to politics. Her goal remains the same -revocation of AFSPA,” another associate said.
A team of her associates is planning to go and meet her at the government-run hospital, where she is forcibly nose-fed to keep her alive to discuss the future course of action.
Sharmila’s struggle has been at the heart of all protests against repel of AFSPA in the Manipur and the neighbouring North-eastern states.
With inputs from agencies