The iron women of Manipur are making their presence felt in this election. But they are separated by fate.
Thirty-four-old Irom Sharmila Chanu, the iconic face in the battle against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Imphal has been in Delhi for over four months. Thirty-two-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi was allegedly raped and killed in 2004. But both are a stark reminder of the “alleged excesses committed under the much-hated Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958”. The draconian— or the black— law is a plank several parties are riding on this election. Manorama Devi’s death three years ago triggered violent protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as she was allegedly picked by the army, tortured and murdered in cold blood.
Their houses have become “pilgrimage” centres as almost all political parties trying to cash in on the anti-AFSPA sentiment.
“Sharmila was scheduled to return this Wednesday, but the Ministry of Home Affairs restrained her until February 23, the day of the final phase of polling in Manipur,” said Babloo Loitongbam of the Human Rights Alert. “She lives in our hearts,” says Sunibala Devi, a college student from Kongkham Leikai, where Sharmila’s house is located. Her family lives on hope.
“I hope this election helps my daughter succeed in her mission and allow her to return home,” said Sharmila’s mother Sakhi Devi. The scene is somewhat similar at Manorama Devi’s residence at Bamon Kampu, 25 km from Leikai. Candidate cutting across party lines have made her house a rallying ground to mobilise votes.