Having rejected food and water for over 500 weeks, she has been called the ‘world’s longest hunger striker’, the ‘Iron Lady’, or ‘Mengoubi’ (the fair one). In hindsight, none of these decorations have any sense of honour in them, they all sound hollow today. Perhaps, she was awarded with these titles for a selfish interest by the people of Manipur?
It is possible that Irom Sharmila was shrewdly egged on for 16 years by her people to carry on with her protest against the presence of army in the state. None of the Manipuris had the courage to join her, and apparently, she came as a blessing and they exploited her daring struggle, which ensured global attention and offered hope for future abolishment of the AFSPA act… every Manipuri wants that and Irom had been single-handedly, without complaint, catering to their collective demand…she was serving their purpose.
So when she announced her decision to end her fast, join politics, and one day get married, the people of Manipur stood exposed! They say she has betrayed the cause she espoused in November 2000. Really? Reportedly, most Manipuris wish she had carried on with her fast and remained confined to a hospital bed, fed through tubes and pipes.
But as social activist Babloo Loitoingbam rightly observed, “If something has not worked for 16 years, it is not likely to work for another 16 either”.
She is entitled to have political ambitions, lead the life she wants, marry the man of her dreams and maybe have kids. She has said her struggle against AFSPA will continue by other means, but Manipur cannot take her for granted anymore; she was not born to serve their needs. The decision to end her fast and move on with life was a long time coming…imagine yourself in her place in the solitary confinement within the four walls of her makeshift prison. May be you will be able to somehow imagine, but you can’t live that life… to want someone else to continue living that way reflects the character of the state.
What a blow it must have been to Irom Sharmila when her own family members refused to accept her after she was released from custody on August 9. But then, this is patriarchy playing out in its brutal avatar! Patriarchy is deeply entrenched in the actions and postures of the ‘Meitei’ male in the state. Even women exhibit that trait. Indeed, it is patriarchy, which wants to overpower Irom and hold her forever a prisoner of their demands, which wants to enforce the ancient tradition where a Meitei cannot marry a Mayang (outsider). It is considered sacrilegious.
A sensitive society would normally acknowledge and respect the sacrifices an individual makes for the benefit of a collective whole. But instead of being there for her, to counsel and encourage her to come out of the psychological trauma, she is being given a raw deal.
Those who feel for her and are there for her are scared of coming out in the open in fear of the majority that has turned against a frail, betrayed, and psychologically damaged Irom.
Irom Chanu Sharmila has already given the prime of her life to Manipur, the rest should belong to her.
Perhaps, she should get married to Desmond Coutinho, an Indian-born Briton who began writing her letters after reading about her in 2009, and to his surprise and many of her supporters, Irom Sharmila started responding to a man she had not even once met.
And thank God, Desmond is a brave man. He has clearly said before that Irom Sharmila is a victim, hijacked by a few close aides, and wishes to rescue her and set her free.
She is beautiful and sensitive, yet fierce and bold. Desmond is a lucky man.