The movie Mary Kom released on Friday to a reported Rs. 8-crore welcome at the box office. The same day, Irom Sharmila chose not to be released from custody, refusing to sign a Rs 10,000 personal bond.
But the story of Manipur’s two most iconic daughters is more than a study in contrast. The champion boxer and the gritty human rights activist have much in common. An iron will, for instance, and the ability to weather storms.
The five-time world champion and Olympic bronze medallist, Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, is still going strong, her aim set on the 2016 Rio Olympics. So is Irom’s steely protest — she is on an indefinite fast since November 2000 — seeking the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Their stories hold insights into the beautiful, troubled state.
A ‘ban’ on Hindi films by Manipuri militants prevented local fans of the boxer from watching the eponymous biopic starring Priyanka Chopra.
As admirers elsewhere headed for halls screening the film, a convoy of armed policemen escorted Sharmila, 42, in an ambulance to the chief judicial magistrate’s court. The judge asked her to sign a personal release bond of `10,000.
She refused, saying her release should be unconditional.
The outcome was an escorted trip back to the special ward in the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences. The 10x12 feet ward has been ‘home’ since she began fasting against the act, which allegedly encouraged Assam Rifles personnel to gun down 10 villagers at Malom near Imphal on November 2, 2000.
A local court had released Sharmila on August 20 but she was taken in on a 15-day remand two days later for continuing to fast.
The hospital in Porompat is about 5km from the Games Village at Langol where Mary Kom, 31, lives. But the two have never met, perhaps because Mary – a state police officer – has restrictions.
At her special ward, Sharmila told Hindustan Times she was wary of New Delhi wearing her determination down. On the biopic, she said it should do a world of good for Mary Kom but “I will not encourage the commercialisation of my life story”.
“I hardly watched movies before all this (fasting and prolonged detention) happened. But I think the ban on Hindi films in Manipur is not right,” Sharmila said. “It is against the spirit of the freedom from AFSPA that I envisage.”
Mary isn’t complaining. A special screening of the film gave Mary three precious days to bond with her family before returning to training for the Asian Games, being held in Incheon, South Korea, from September 19.
“I’m happy and excited,” Mary told HT after the screening. “I never thought a biopic on my life would ever be made. Every individual in this world is facing some problem or the other, so I sincerely hope this film gives them the strength to overcome their difficulties.”
“Every time there was a scene showing trust and understanding between us, she would get emotional,” her husband K Onler Kom told HT. Onler has stood by Mary while the mother of three boys concentrated on her boxing.
Mary’s career sputtered when she failed to qualify for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July-August, losing to main rival Pinky Jangra in the selection trials surrounded by controversy. She had her revenge by defeating Pinky in the Asian Games selection round.
“Last time, I won a bronze. I can’t guarantee anything because every time the bout is different and opponents are new, but I assure you I will give it my best,” she said.
Mary needs to bulk up a bit, unlike other boxers who usually need to trim down close to a competition. “I started training with my new coach Angom Lenin Meitei. He helped me gain weight as I had lost a few kilos recently.”
Sharmila wishes her the best. “She has struggled like most women in a conflict zone. But her determination and faith in God have seen her through.”