Sharmila in a Labyrinth


Tomorrow, November 2, when the state wakes up, a unique history of resistance would have crossed a landmark. Irom Sharmila Chanu, who is on a fast to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958, would have completed ten years without voluntary intake of food. Not only is this feat about hunger, but also of voluntarily forgoing a vital human sensory pleasure – taste. Even a day without food would convince anybody the suffering she has embraced for the cause she unshakably believes in. She would be the last person to be interested in records or publicity, but all the same the record she has already set, more than any other record, is one which probably nobody will ever be able to emulate in history. Brought into sharp focus in the international consciousness yet again would be the draconian AFSPA which survived pressures for reform only recently in the wake of an outbreak of public outrage in the streets of Srinagar. Probably, the edifice on which the AFSPA is built is far too solid to be shaken up by the hunger strike of a frail woman in Imphal or even her possible martyrdom, but Sharmila probably would not be bothered by this. She has demonstrated resistance is not necessarily about winning only, but of refusing to go against one’s beliefs regardless of consequences.

Arguably, if Sharmila was a Chinese citizen and her resistance was against the Chinese government, the West would have been moved so much that she would have become a prime candidate for the Nobel Prize, just as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the prize this time and the Dalai Lama before him. But perhaps, to cover up its track, the Nobel Peace Committee may just still be having Sharmila in their list of probable future winners, and what an embarrassment such an event would be for India. Speculations on the disguised politics that go into the Nobel Peace Prize apart, the question in everybody’s mind today is, what is the way forward from here. Must Sharmila be allowed to be consumed by the flame of her passion for justice? There is now little other way for her to come out unscathed if the AFSPA is to remain. It now seems too late for her to withdraw, and increasingly, death and martyrdom, seem the only honourable path left for her to follow. What a tragedy this would be indeed.

The thought of Sharmila is in the same breath inspiring and despairing. As to why she is a source of inspiration there is nothing further to explain. What is despairing about her story however is a lot more complicated. She seems caught in a labyrinth not of her making alone. She went into a fast on November 2 in 2000, after Assam Rifles troops went on a rampage following an unsuccessful ambush attempt on one of their convoys by militants at Malom. The soldiers took out their ire on ten innocent bystanders at a bus stop nearby killing them all on the spot. Her fast was for the repeal of the AFSPA but now that the Act is unlikely to go just as yet and she is unwilling to surrender. The way she is headed is more than obvious to all. What then is the way to save her? Why must not the AFSPA go? There are two answers to the last question. One is the insecurity of the Indian state, for indeed, the AFSPA’s continuance reflects less of the Army than the Indian state as such. It is simply unable to entrust its problems of internal dissent in the hands of its own civil law and order upkeep mechanism, or to ask its Army to be accountable to civil laws in dealing with civil situation. The irony also is, it is unwilling to call this internal situation a “war” so as to legitimise the use of its military, for “war” implies conflict between two states, and calling insurgency war would amount to acknowledging the legitimacy of the insurgent ideology of secession. The other answer is, there are those pushing Sharmila into the war front as a strategy of their war, entrapping her further into her unenviable predicament. Complicating the situation further, even as Sharmila invariably gets drawn towards martyrdom, the conditions that led the Indian state to respond with AFSPA has degenerated further. The daily extortion related bomb attacks and most visibly the recent three days strike by the state media in the face of threats from constantly splintering lumpenized militant groups, are evidences. Draconian laws are anti-democratic, but sometimes, as a Nobel Peace Prize winner during a panel discussion of past Nobel Peace Prize winners on CNN in 2002 remarked, sometimes, when a population feels besieged by tyrannical persecution, draconian interventions can come as a relief. He described how Muslims in Kosovo, looking out of their windows one fine morning and when they spied the first NATO bombs landed in their city, rejoiced chanting “Beautiful Bombs”. The twist in Manipur today is, circumstance has led an increasing number of people to call the AFSPA a “Beautiful Bomb”.


  1. Today’s Hindu has correspondence on the conviction of a police superintendant for the fake encounter of a suspect they had in custody. The case is forty years and that’s without the legal immunity of AF(SP)A. What exactly do these cowards in paramilitary gear fear?

    The defence from citizens is similar to your beautiful bomb theory basically irrational psychosis. The argument is what with all these psychotic murderers running around the only way to level the playing field is to allow our police to use their tactics. Rational human beings with an understanding of history can see the problem right there.

    I wouldn’t have to argue why that is irrational in the West. And I do take on board that in terms of democracy India remains clueless. Politicians buy vote banks from local grandees. No Indian believes that their own politicians would listen to them if for example they wrote them a strongly worded letter. I doubt there is one living citizen of India who has ever written a letter to their MP or MLA, ie one with a stamp, using the post office.

    So yes International Pressure, personally I would start with the Sakharov, that builds on the support for repeal of AF(SP)A from the European Union. The Nobel like the Templeton I was assuming would save on unnecessary wallpaper for the Peace Ashram. And no Son, how stupid do you think we are, first thing to do is give away all the prize money.

    I would also start thinking of more intelligent alliances. Instead of looking with envy upon the success of Chinese dissidents try forming an alliance with the Tibetan cause. If the West saw Manipur as it did Tibet, India would comply with normal standards of decency. Slimy rich Indians want what money cannot buy them, the respect of white people.

    A small point on your historical evidence (?). First Kosovo Albanians believed they would all be murdered that the genocide of Serbs was spreading and just as the world had stood by for months while the Muslim population was butchered their women raped, and violence like this is never religious. You could discover who the rapist was by checking whether the orthodox bilateral cross was carved on the breasts of women or the simple roman cross. When people asked me as a Roman Catholic whose side I was on I believe I responded with the same diagnosis of psychosis from the questioner.

    So yes to prevent the genocide they looked to the bombs and people disagree but Kosovo remains intact, it also required NATO ground forces and it’s a long story I summarize, but they have life and liberty. Once they join the EU they will also have promises of financial and material wealth.

    The difference with Manipur is that you have had this insanity for fifty years. Tell me how is the beautiful bomb theory going to work. It’s failed patently for fifty years. Instead of having one group of manageable insurgents with one set of demands you now have at least forty different groups with incoherent demands. Journalists had to shut down for a few days because you were too scared to decide which story to print. You had the choice between printing the agenda of one UG group or that of its opponent. When Manipuri journalists have figured out they could always go with the truth. Then you start to have more Western choices. I don’t believe Western is always better, it’s often less psychotic.

    The politiicians stopped caring a long time ago. You have never cared about Irom Sharmila you have no idea who is she is. As far as I am able and more than I am able I am not going to let her be sacrificed for Manipuri scum as in the best they are. Let’s get one thing clear from the outset, we don’t like each other I am a foreigner and you are a bunch of psychopaths. But I am with the lady.

    She has another option. That is to admit that her quiet peaceful non-violent struggle has was phase one. And the adaptability she seeks from her adversaries she needs to show herself. She moves to phase two. Then we set up a peace ashram in the most violent part of Manipur. I would very much like to trademark some bullet resistant meditation robes for marketing with the americans. Made in Manipur with talismans designed to help avoid bullets. This isn’t psychosis old chap, it’s to embarrass violent Indians into ending their reign of atrocities. Satyagraha is based on the belief that embarrassment is more powerful than the gun. Indians haven’t changed all that much it will still work.

    If she marries me I have no intention of taking her away from the land who gave her birth and the people she loves (why question love). I am saying two can work better than one. She clearly doesn’t fear death. I am saying that’s contagious. I am more than happy for you to tell me that you have no options in life, but I must insist that you stop pontificating about my future wife. We have choices. We have a future. And so does Manipur.

    I.E. allow us to embarrass the shit out of Manipuri and Indian politicians whenever they spout their bullshit about being a first world democratic nation. We can do this in Manipur no need ever to go on a fact finding mission to Switzerland. But I want a honeymoon. And I wonder will you really begrudge me this. You titled this piece the Labrynth. Everyone knows the story of Perseus and Andromeda if only because of the poorly made 3D film with the guy from AVATAR. Your saying that the way mythologically out of this labrynth for Sharmila is for a foreigner to come in and kill the Minotaur. More than that you are saying that in every Juga a foreigner has come and saved her. The myth of the eternal return.

    So we switch the demand from removal of AF(SP)A to removal of Indian hypocrisy from the Security Council. How do you like the sound of dem bootiful bombs.

    Say with me and say it loud

    INDIAN ARMY – GO HOME, unless you have come to meditate or take tea and engage in heated discussions on the future of security in the state in which case be welcome brothers. As you can see I if there is one thing I like as much as meditating it’s chatting to my enemies.

    I think live would be an adventure with Sharmila and it would be a pity for her to be murdered in prison in a fake medical accident. I don’t claim to be anything special just very stupid and overromantic, wrong place, wrong time. But she is special. I am not sure how I am going to get her free still seems easier to repeal AF(SP)A but she will be free and we will live in a peace ashram. After that I don’t claim to determine how I will die, only how I shall live.


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