Irom Sharmila does not deserve this, least of all from you

We have to analyse Iron Lady's protest beyond what the society has to opine today.

 |  5-minute read |   11-08-2016
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She may not be the only rebel the country has misunderstood, but is arguably someone who compels us to think about rebellion in newer ways. Women activists in Manipur have accused the 44-year-old human rights crusader of being "brainwashed" by gadgets inside the prison. They have also hinted their disappointment at her choosing to marry her boyfriend and begin a new life.

As Irom Chanu Sharmila ends her fast, she finds herself straddling between the devil and the sea. From the endless nightmares inflicted by Army men on the people, to the silent cold treatment by friends and family, the "Iron Lady" has returned to the same hospital which was her home all these years.

Also read: Will Irom Sharmila dare take on Modi to fulfil her AFSPA promise?

One of the longest hunger strikers in the world, she is an inspiration for everyone who realises that free armed impunity is an encroachment of the democratic rights of civilians. But the sad part is that not many comprehend the truly "non-patriotic" side of AFSPA.

It is as racist and as sexist as the "nation" could get. Just because it doesn’t affect the so-called mainstream, as much as it affects people in Manipur, for example, many AFSPA brutalities do not hit the news headlines. And even when they do, we like to shrug it off and revel in the ruthless "azaad" country that India is right now.

afspa_081116080949.jpg The sad part is that not many comprehend the truly "non-patriotic" side of AFSPA.

Irom Sharmila is no light matter, when will we realise this?  

Also read: 5 things to know about Irom Sharmila for millennials

On the internet her doodles are trying to make her heroism a "light-hearted" one. I came across one such doodle where a hyberbolic larger-than-life Gandhiji tells Sharmila, "It’s all right, beti. Satyagraha works against British laws, not against brutish laws!"

Then, there is India’s bestselling author who tweets this:

After looking at the large number of retweets and laughter emoticons around this, I realised that we have no worth for selflessness and sacrifice.

The even greater tragedy is that we have celebrities like Chetan Bhagat and Shobhaa De getting more attention, yet few to actually take the gravity of Irom’s protest with sensitivity.

When are we ever going to take her seriously, without ridiculing her supposed "surrender" to the nation-state and glorifying her struggle into "martyrdom"?

In Imphal, local women have spread the message around that she is unwelcome in the public circles now. According to a report in the Sentinel, a Northeast daily, even women from the "Save Sharmila Group" (Sarmila Kanba Lup) have distanced themselves from her. They stated that now they will change the name of their governing body to "Sharmila Gone The Other Way".

Also read: Irom Sharmila ending her fast won’t stop AFSPA protests in Manipur

Thinking like any capitalist machinery, many have complained that she failed to "produce" any strong outcome through her protest. Others have mentioned that, this is for the first time a revolutionary is showing interest in marriage, having children and that, all such "desires" are denied to a "martyr".

There are also the philanthropic many who think politics is fated to remain the dirty ground that it has always been, and that we must prevent Irom from washing her "pure" hands in it.

I read painfully that her 16-year-old fast is being understood as having gone to "waste" implying that it did not successfully repeal the draconian AFSPA, which is in force in Manipur, her home state and other states in the Northeast.

The people who have once stood by her and for whom she has protested peacefully have removed her name from their fight against AFSPA.

Underneath all these incidents, lies an ideological problem: the popular image of the celibate martyr. The majority cannot handle the fact that Irom has taken a stand for herself, that she has expressed desires for the ordinary, for the everyday pleasures of life.

She has refused to adhere to the "angel" that we make fasting women into, and yet, as she broke her fast with a taste of honey, nothing would have broken her more than to be dejected by those of her own.

What do these series of events tell us about the native attitudes in Manipur?

If there was an Irom Sharmila in Assam, she too would have been shunned once she moved beyond her established image. Many female writers and activists have faced similar cases of social rebuke and humiliation in the past. And this pattern, to me, is a huge problem that tells us that all that hullaballoo about matriarchal utopic societies in the Northeast is essentially patriarchal colouring.

We have to analyse Irom’s protest beyond what the society has to opine today.

Also read: The very lonely and very long battle of Irom Chanu Sharmila

The pertinent question is not whether she will emerge "victorious" as a political candidate or not, but rather, her continued choice to work for the repeal of AFSPA.

Secondly, this instance shows us how people tend to romanticise rebellion. Perhaps there is also an underlying fear that Sharmila's contesting may actually threaten the entire male-dominated lobby, that is, politics and AFSPA.

Let us all think about Irom with a little more kindness instead of making her a flag-bearer of all lost causes in the Northeast. She deserves a chance at the life she chooses to have, and all of us owe it to her.


Rini Barman Rini Barman @barman_rini

Freelance writer and researcher, Delhi.

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