Imphal: Ending her 16-year-old fast on Tuesday when she took a few drops of honey, Irom Chanu Sharmila could not hold back her tears. A few moments later the frail woman, who had been force-fed all these years, regained composure and announced that she wants to be the Chief Minister of Manipur, some day.
“There is no democracy in Manipur. I want to be Chief Minister of Manipur and make positive changes,” she said calmly.
The moment marked a historic transformation of Irom Shamila from a global icon of protest and the most recognisable face of resistance in the conflict-ridden State into a political leader.
“People say politics is dirty, so is society,” Sharmila said, adding that people may be negative towards her about her new decision, but they don’t want any real change and wish to see her just as a symbol of resistance.
Sharmila ended her fast exactly a month after the Supreme Court judgment questioned the immunity enjoyed by the security personnel under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) against criminal action for acts committed in disturbed areas. The apex court had said last month that there was no concept of “absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court” if an Army man had committed an offence.
Sharmila started her fast at the age of 28 following a massacre in Imphal in which 10 persons were killed. She has been demanding repeal of the draconian act, AFSPA.
Speaking to journalists, she repeatedly said she is neither an icon nor a goddess but an “ordinary woman with ordinary desires.” Asked about her personal life and plans of marriage, she said it is her “personal issue and a very natural one.”
The 44-year-old activist was clear in her resolve to withdraw her fast and appealed to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court to set her free, soon after she reached the court at 10.58 a.m.
Dressed in a grayish-blue traditional Manipuri Phanek and multi-coloured scarf, she stood up several times in the court room and asked the Magistrate to speed up proceedings. She also sought his permission to interact with the press. Her patience during a near solitary life for so long seemed to have run out.
A few hours later after the court granted her bail, she held a press conference and broke her fast. She did not avoid any political question giving a clear message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi “to connect to people without the draconian laws.” She also underlined the need of right to self-determination for the people of Kashmir.
Released from custody, however, she does not know where she will go. Sharmila does not want to see her mother Irom Sakhi as she promised to her that she will only meet her after the AFSPA is repealed. Interestingly, Sharmila, always a resident of Manipur, was very unsure about her destination. Her friends clarified that she does not have a place to stay.
“I think I want to settle in an ashram,” she told the media.
A few days back threats of assassination were handed out to her. Now it is very unclear how her family would react as they have been saying that she never consulted them on this decision.
Sharmila had indicated that she wanted to get married and also join politics. She has also said that she would contest as an independent candidate and will continue her fight against AFSPA.
The bone of contention has been her relationship with her Goan born British fiancee, Desmond Countinho. There were reports of family members threatening Countinho. Further, the family also felt that she should not have been involved with a non-Manipuri. This has created a wide divide in the family. To state that she was breaking off her fast to get married has only made matters worse.
Adding to her woes are threats from radical factions as well. While some human rights groups have openly criticised her decision, the radical faction has warned that she will be eliminated.
Human Rights groups feel that her decision to end the fast is as bad as her decision to join politics.
On the other hand, is a lesser known group called the Alliance for Socialist Unity, Kangleipak which has issued a threat to her. The group reminds her that some others were eliminated after they had deviated from the cause and then facing the elections. The group urged her to continue her fast. N Oken the chairman of this group says that all those who joined politics did so knowing well that it was a dead end. Further the group also said that she should not marry a non-local person.