Irom Sharmila, a woman of indefatigable spirit, broke her 16-year long fast recently. A fast that was not for any personal gain, but for the greater good of saving her people from the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). After 16 years of long and lonely struggle against the mighty authorities, what she gets from the very people for whom she was fighting – unfair accusations and expectations!
When Irom announced her decision to break her fast and change her future course of action, she got a mixed response. Some people were supportive, while others started lashing out at her. Even though the number of her supporters is increasing by the day, there is no dearth of naysayers. The latter are accusing her of giving in to the authorities, or greed, or giving up too soon. It is shocking to see people have the audacity to even make such comments. Here is a woman who struggled hard for 16 long years, sacrificing her personal life for others and what she gets in return are insinuations!
Irom made a personal decision 16 years back and she had every right to change her decision. She did not give up her protest against the AFSPA. All she did was change her strategy. It is a very intelligent and practical thing to do. She realized that today’s times were different from those of Mahatma Gandhi’s and a fast-unto-death was not working the way she had planned. It was only prudent to change her future course of action. In fact, she should be given credit for having a plan in place before taking such a major step. She has made it amply clear that she intends to be the Chief Minister of Manipur and wants to change the system from within. Those who are accusing her of giving in to greed and being politically motivated, need to realize that had her intentions been bad, she would not have opened her cards so soon. The very fact that she has openly declared her intentions of heading the state to bring change, shows she is not harbouring any secret desire of being taken to the circles of power. On the contrary, it shows that she sees this as the only way forward for her struggle to reach conclusion.
If Irom had not taken this decision, she would have continued her fast for many more years only to not get any results as was evident from the 16 years gone by. Ultimately, she would have died a martyr without achieving anything. Nobody can say with certainty what would have happened, but the current circumstances showed she needed to change her plan, which she did. So, why this hue and cry? In fact, people should be supporting her to take her struggle forward even though with a changed strategy.
The very people who are criticising her for giving up are to be blamed for her failure. Irom’s fast did not yield any results because she was lonely. Other than occasional supporters and interviews, she had no one backing her up. If the very people who are lamenting at her now, had joined her fast, the numbers would have been too huge for the government to ignore. It is because of this that Irom is trying to head the state so that she has the numbers and power to take the action she wants.
It goes to her credit that Irom is not getting heart-broken, or de-motivated by the negativity surrounding her decision. Any other person without the grit and determination of Irom would have bid adieu to Manipur and encashed on her celebrity status. Irom is known across the world and there would be no dearth of countries welcoming her, or organisations giving her a cushion job. However, here is Irom, holding on to her people and hope.
It is very easy for anybody to criticise and point fingers. Can any one of those people stay hungry for 16 days, let alone 16 years? No, they cannot. They can only sit in the comfort of their air-conditioned rooms to expect others to do the hard work for them. 16 years of persistent hard work for the society deserves applause and support, not brickbats. Do not politicise her move. She owes nobody anything. She was just a common (wo)man who decided she had to do something uncommon for the common good. Constructive approach would be to support her in her new plan even if you were too weak to join her previous one. If even this is not possible, the least one can do is not criticise, or pull her down.
He has a right to criticise, who has a heart to help. If you cannot help, do not criticise. Simple logic!
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)