Ending her 16-year fast on Tuesday when she took a few drops of honey, Irom Chanu Sharmila could not hold back her tears. A few moments later the frail woman, who had been force-fed all these years, regained composure and announced that she wants to be the Chief Minister of Manipur, some day.
“There is no democracy in Manipur. I want to be Chief Minister of Manipur and make positive changes,” she said calmly.
The moment marked a historic transformation of Irom Shamila from a global icon of protest and the most recognisable face of resistance in the conflict-ridden State into a political leader.
“People say politics is dirty, so is society,” Ms. Sharmila said, adding that people may be negative towards her about her new decision but they don’t want any real change and wish to see her just as a symbol of resistance.
Ms. Sharmila ended her fast exactly a month after the Supreme Court judgment questioned the immunity enjoyed by the security personnel under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) against criminal action for acts committed in disturbed areas. The apex court had said last month that there was no concept of “absolute immunity” from trial by a criminal court if an Army man had committed an offence.
Ms. Sharmila started her fast at the age of 28 following a massacre in Imphal in which 10 persons were killed. She has been demanding repeal of the draconian AFSPA.
The 44-year-old activist was clear in her resolve to withdraw her fast and appealed to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court to set her free, soon after she reached the court at 10.58 am.
Ms. Sharmila told journalists that she is neither an icon nor a goddess but an “ordinary woman with ordinary desires.”
Asked about her plans for marriage, she said it is her “personal issue and a very natural one.”
Earlier in court, she stood up several times and asked the Magistrate to speed up proceedings. Her patience during a near solitary life for so long seemed to have run out.
A few hours later after the court granted her bail, she held a press conference and broke her fast. She gave a clear message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi “to connect to people without the draconian laws.” She also underlined the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.
Released from custody, however, she does not know where to go. She does not want to see her mother Irom Sakhi as she had promised her that she will meet her only after the AFSPA is repealed. “I think I want to settle in an ashram,” she told the media.
On 5th November 2010 it will be 10 years since Irom Sharmila Chanu is peacefully fighting for the democratic rights of millions in India. She is the epitome of non-violent movement in the 21st century. Her’s is the longest recorded hunger strike in the world. Her only demand is to repeal Armed forces Special Powers Act.
Irom Sharmila Chanu is India’s hidden dark secret. The state and the central government disregard her silent plea, when she visited Delhi in 2006 and tried to meet the President and the Prime Minister, they refused to acknowledge her, even her letters went unanswered.When Gandhiji used to go on hunger strikes the ruling Britishers would hold discussions with him, Sharmila was treated worse than our oppressors treated our leaders.
Back home in Manipur, the government treats her like a criminal. They force feed her through a nasal tube, keep her in solitary confinement, her visitors are monitored, even her own family has to take permission to meet her.
Sharmila fights to “protect life and personal liberty” without which, people like you and I, would have no democratic rights. We could be shot dead simply because we look “suspicious”. Today AFSPA is in Manipur tomorrow it could be in your city and under the name of law your women could be raped, your family could be killed. Sharmila fights not just for the people of Manipur but for all of us. She fights for our right to live.
Sharmila has given the prime of her youth fighting for her people’s rights, our rights. What can you do for her?
Support Irom Sharmila Chanu, sign the online petition to repeal AFSPA:http://www.petitiononline.com/AHRCMP2/petition.html