I breathed a sigh of relief for Irom Shamila Chanu after a Manipur court ordered to release her from prison – in her case the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) in Imphal.
Somehow I was delighted and thought that for now the “Iron Lady of Manipur” or “Mengoubi” (“the fair one”) can at least stay with her loved ones (a legitimate right she well deserves) as she continues her fight in the open.
Day after the court ruling, on August 20, 2014 Sharmila walked free from her prison hospital that held her captive for nearly 14 long years, but only to be re-arrested. Irom was forcefully picked up by the police three days after her release on charges of attempt to suicide for continuing with her hunger strike. The frail Sharmila was then taken back to her ward- JNIMS to be force fed. The development comes after the activist had refused a medical check-up.
Earlier when she was released from jail, Irom had said that she will continue to fast till her demand is met and that she would not take any force feed or allow any medical set up again.
Considering the scenario, my heart goes out to the Iron Lady, who has been forced to make the jail as her home.
One can only imagine how life must have been like for Irom all through these years - lying alone in a ward of hospital with a plastic tube attached to her nose to force-feed her to keep her alive.
About four years after she started her hunger strike, her menstruation stopped. She became weak and her health deteriorated over the years. However, nothing could stop her from pursuing the route of non-violence.
Irom was criticised, imprisoned many times on charges of attempting to commit suicide. But she has never been disheartened. Not even fearful forces have been able to deter her hope and her humanitarian cause.
She has been misjudged, misinterpreted, but she has not given up her peaceful struggle. Instead she continues her battle all alone in the silent shell for the people of her homeland.
Leaving aside all the sheer dimensions of one`s lavish lifestyle and comforts, at 28, a simple girl then, Irom began her hunger strike after 10 people including a woman were killed by the personnel of Assam Rifles at Mallom near Imphal on November 2nd, 2000.
I wonder how many of us would need to relinquish our lives like Irom, who sacrificed herself selflessly for her people, her region. Like us, she too is a human being, a daughter, a sister and a fellow citizen who wishes to lead a normal life. But, for this daughter of the land, her main principle of survival is to fight for her people.
Sharmila has been known as the `world`s longest hunger striker`. On International Women’s Day, 2014, she was voted the top woman icon of India by the MSN poll.
Sharmila was awarded the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. In 2009, she was honoured with the first Mayillama Award of the Mayilamma Foundation “for achievement of her nonviolent struggle in Manipur”. She also won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission in 2010. But to little use, because she and her cause have actually been neglected and cruelly suppressed.
Now, the question is - will the new government care to take up Sharmila`s cause? I wish the Narendra Modi government does not neglect her long sought unheard plea, as has happened in the past years.
It`s not just the lawmakers but even the media has `turned a blind eye` to her while choosing to cover Bollywood`s glitz and glamour.
It`s time for the government and politicians to listen to Irom and provide justice to her. After all, till when can she be left hungry in want of a peaceful environment, justice and non-violence?
Her postulate is crystal clear - revoke the draconian AFSPA in Manipur so that the people can live without the fear of being killed by the very forces, who in fact are supposed to shield them.
The AFSPA, which was supposed to combat terrorism and militancy in the disturbed area, has been sometimes misused, leading to extra-judicial killings, fake encounters, rapes and illegal detentions in the area. Thousands of ordinary people have been traumatised by the men in uniform in the name of protecting law and order.
I hope Irom`s mission will now succeed, her silent war will now be over. Being a citizen of India, isn`t it our duty to support her fight against injustice?