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Sharmila’s courage

Courage comes in many sizes. Sharmila Irom Chanu is a diminutive woman from Manipur, frail and meek looking. Looking at her one wouldn’t imagine that this woman has embarked upon a courageous mission to save her land and people. But what she has done over the last six years is nothing short of a display of courage of the rarest kind, a courage born out of empathy for the rape of her land.

Sharmila has been on a total hunger strike for the last six years for the cause of withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Provision Act (AFSPA) that has been clamped in Manipur and much of the north-east of India. This draconian act gives the Indian army power to detain and shoot people upon a mere suspicion. Further, army personnel cannot be prosecuted without prior permission from the ministry of home affairs.

The turning point for Sharmila was in November 2000 when a convoy of Assam Rifles was ambushed in a village outside Imphal. The enraged troops shot dead 10 people at a bus stop. That was when Sharmila decided to embark on her extraordinary measure. After all you have to fight fire with fire. In this case she decided to use a Gandhian form of non-violent protest and refused to eat or drink anything till AFSPA was repealed from Manipur.

The state government arrested her and force-fed her through a pipe attached to her nose. Further, they booked her for “attempt to commit suicide’. As is the case with the mainstream media, they didn’t pick up this extraordinary story because it was unfolding in Manipur, far from ‘mainland’ India. This continued for 6 years till Sharmila decided to come to Delhi where she believed her case would get more exposure. She was surreptitiously smuggled out of Manipur by her brother and continued her fast outside Jantar mantar. After a few days the police once again arrested her and shifted her to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and once again a tube was inserted in a nose.

Something else happened in Manipur. In 2004 a group of women assembled outside the headquarters of the Assam Rifles (the main paramilitary outfit operating in the NE). They were all naked and held aloft signs that read ‘Indian Army, Rape us’, ‘Take our bodies’. They were protesting the death of a woman who had been picked up by the Assam Rifles and allegedly raped in their custody. The soldiers claimed that she was a wanted militant. These women also wanted AFSPA withdrawn because they were sick of living under the military jackboot.

Back to the dingy room in AIIMS where Sharmila is confined. The last six years have taken a toll on Sharmila’s health. She is allowed to take a walk in the corridor outside her room assisted by the guards who are posted 24/7 outside her room. When she is not reading she practices yoga to keep herself in some sort of health. There have been a few articles here and there in the papers. Her story has been documented in the non-mainstream print and online media though. She hasn’t met her mother in 5 years because her mother couldn’t bear to see her daughter in the state she is in.

Sharmila’s amazing struggle against the might of the Indian state is a story worth telling. The media has gone ga-ga over ‘gandhigiri’ with silly stories doing the rounds about how gandhigiri is sweeping the nation. But when it comes to an innovative form of gandhian protest it is strangely silent.

8 responses to “Sharmila’s courage”

  1. Purna chander says:

    This article is really touching,and worth knowing. In the present scenario, when every newspaper wants the news which can be highlited, this issue, as said doesn’t find it’s place. This is really pathetic

  2. tushar says:

    yes, the mainstream media seems to have entirely ignored sharmila’s story. I think this is where blogs can play a vital role in highlighting how the ‘other’ india lives.

  3. KHUMTIYA DEBBARMA says:

    HELLO
    SHARMILA YOU ARE A LIVING SAINT WHO HAS SACRIFICE YOUR LIFE FOR YOUR NATION ESPECIALY FOR THE HELPLESS PEOPLE OF THE NORTHEAST I HONOUR AND THANKYOU.PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD SHOULD PRAY FOR PEACE AND HARMONY IN THIS WORLD AND MAY YOUR COURAGE ENLIGHTEN THE WHOLE WORLD .AND I PRAY THAT THE PURPOSE FOR YOUR COURAGE BE FULFILLED.
    THANKING YOU
    MS KHUMTIYA

  4. Arasu Balraj says:

    Kavita joshi made a documentary on Irom Sharmila. visit the link to read more about Sharmila. good to see somebody writing about Irom Sharmila.you wrote.i wrote. we all wrote.

    but what’s the result? a deafening silence from the centre, media, judiciary…from every quarter of the State. so, what’s the ‘innovation'(what is so innovative about Gandhi’s hunger strike, the well-known physical form of his pressure politics, in which he himself failed in 40’s to achieve any purpose rather than creating sensation) has given to Sharmila or Manipur? nothing. simply nothing.Though with agony and pain, i speak about Sharmila whenever i get a chance, or wherever i speak about the current scenario of the country, i think Sharmila’s struggle, beside the courage and unrelenting determination, is an example of the futility of Gandhian Politics. Though it’s harsh, i would like to say, Sharmila is going to achieve nothing by this struggle. Because, Indian ruling classes will never free the north east from their clutches for the sake of a girl’s life. The apathy will never end. It’s time sharmila quit the struggle than to kill herself slowly.

  5. Arasu Balraj says:

    link to my post was incorrect in my previous comment. it’s here.

  6. Tushar says:

    @ Arasu

    I think you are missing the point. Sharmila is registering a protest against the Indian nation-state’s practices in the Northeast. She had the courage to carry out a hunger strike for seven years. I wish you would take time out and reflect on her determination and selflesness to highlight atrocities in Manipur rather than sit back and pass value judgement. In all honesty, would YOU be able to do something similar. If yes then go ahead, if not then please refrain from commenting on other people’s struggles if you cannot even empathise with it.
    futility of Gandhian politics!!! Do you think 1947 was the result of someone else’s politics?

  7. Arasu Balraj says:

    don’t know what makes you so furious after 2 months of my comment… wait, who are you to say that? can YOU do this, if not…doesn’t that count as value judgement? with all my respect to sharmila, i have conveyed my opinions and ofcourse it’s a criticism. do you put the challenge to Arundhathi Roy too for having the same criticism?(http://arasubalraj.blogspot.com/2007/03/some-fing-superpower-this.html)
    i don’t find any reason for such an arrogant rebuttal as my opinion itself is clear and i am not for your silly provocations.

    let readers decide who is missing the point.

  8. Tushar says:

    Looks lime you are getting provoked, though I see no reason for you to, least of all from my replies. No, I am not furious either. What I said was just matter of fact and if you want to hold your opinion that’s your right and I respect that. Its just that I find your attitude puzzling. Are you implying that since nothing will change as the result of a particular action therefore nothing should be done and the status-quo allowed to continue.
    Even I know the Indian state will not loosen its hold over the North east because of Sharmila’s fast, but would yo deride the courage of this girl who’s given up everything to highlight the plight of her people?
    And can you please clarify on your sweeping statement ‘the futility of Gandhian politics’.

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