As the UPA Government twitched up to the wants of Anna Hazare and Co. people all over the country erupted with glee. Fire crackers exploded nearly two months prior to Diwali, and the rains felt as if it had struck a drought-ridden kingdom. The self-proclaimed Gandhian, freshly released from his voluntary custody, began a Dandi-like march to the Ramlila Maidan in the heart of India’s renewed capital. Only this time, instead of a mere two hundred that accompanied our Father of the Nation, thousands joined in, but not for a handful of salt, instead to stand united and face-to-face against corruption.
While support poured in from every ‘adda’, every ‘mohalla’ in our nation, one small debt-ridden and fiercely corrupted, north-eastern state chose not to show its support. They have been waging war against the Government in their very own way; a war that is being fought by one single person, which began more than a decade ago. Irom Sharmila is Manipur’s very own Wonder Woman, but with no extra-ordinary super power. If one had to assign her a power, it would be that of resilience and patience. Since the morning of 2nd November, 2000, the “Iron Lady of Manipur” began her incredible journey to which only a handful of people have yearned upon. That morning a battalion of soldiers from the Assam Rifles shot down about 10 innocent people at a bus stop in Irom’s home town. The victims included a senior lady and former National Child Bravery winner. The usual Thursday fast turned unusually long for Irom after she decided to hold an indefinite fast to show her discontentment at the The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which allows for the armed force in India to arrest and interrogate any citizen on the suspicion of being a rebel, no holds bar. The Act has already faced serious opposition from many human rights camps, who suggest that some forces within the Indian Military framework may have violated the act or misused its jurisdiction.
Irom was initially arrested just three days into her fast, on charges on a suicide attempt by the local police but much like Anna Hazare, she continued fasting, which seriously weakened her so-much-so, that the police decided to force feed her through a nasal incubator, pushed down harshly through her wind-pipe, into her stomach. She had been released earlier but her continuous fast left the police little choice but to arrest her repeatedly. Since then, she has been force fed and hasn’t chewed a morsel for over ten years. Her beautiful, rosy face transfigured into a gruesome zombie-like structure, as she sat through all these painful years carrying on her protest. Her face now resembles a saint, one who seems lost in meditation. She can only smile weakly to media persons who wish to narrate her story to the world. Once in a while she would meekly ask someone if the Government is willing to negotiate. People have tried to convince and coax her out of this spiteful state, but she keeps reminding everyone about her dream and that it was but a door-step away. Once a poet who waved her pens to the mystical hilly terrain of the Land of the Floating Lake, she now is very much a warrior whose voice may have fallen to deaf Government ears, but her echoes have touched hundreds, many of them women and human rights activists. She was even in contention to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. That would have certainly been a fairy tale, only this one would have featured no Cinderella or Snow White.
The Indian stronghold in high seats of New Delhi has witnessed tremendous will-power from many commoners in the past few weeks. People have found reason, a cause to unite for the first time since Kargil, but not against a foreign dominion. This time the rat is within the house. Despite of Anna Hazare’s ‘David-esque’ struggle against Goliath, Irom Sharmila’s cause is very much similar, even though their ideals differ. One is marched on by a company of thousands, while the other waits for death or salvation; a salvation that many claim is widely far-fetched. But Irom’s determination shows, if not anything else, courage in a country where it needed a 70-something man to stir its population’s feelings to vent out patriotism. Her struggle is against her body’s temptation for food, her throat’s quench for water, her mind’s claim for peace and her heart’s desire for victory. Her story depicts the Government’s serious neglect of the north-eastern sector and the media’s lament and inability to show the same. In a country where world records are provided with TV shows as a stage and uncaring souls for an audience, this is, perhaps, one record that screams out to deaf ears through a woman’s muted and starved battle for what is right and what is wrong.
Irom Sharmila: the Iron Lady of Manipur.