Irom Sharmila is in love with somebody who has been communicating and sharing soul anguish with her in her confinement through letters. A report in a national daily today said so. Nothing very strange about this, after all she is only 39 years of age, and living alone in a prison cell after having vowed to sacrifice eating to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, for the last almost 11 years. Her fast will complete 11 years on November 2 which is the day her family says her fast began, or November 4 when the newspapers first took notice of her fast and put it on record in the next day’s edition. The terrible privation she has inflicted upon herself and how she has been coping with it is next only to superhuman and it is a wonder that her spirit had not broken down long ago. Ordinary men and women would have probably lost their sanity by now. She is still very much alive today, carrying on the fight she took upon herself to shoulder. It must come with a great deal of bewilderment for many to discover that a superhuman has the heart of a human within. This should not be a matter of discouragement but of elation. After all, what we want to see demonstrated is an ordinary human pushing the boundaries of achievement and not a god doing what are humanly impossible.
We would in this sense give three cheers to Sharmila for the revelation and not downgrade her stature in any way, although we do feel as a public figure she should have been a little wary and discreet about going public with her very private life. It is also unfortunate that she had not indicated this to the local media, making it seem as if the local media has been party to keeping her feelings under wraps, or has there been such an effort by interested parties. This should become known sooner than later. But no great damage done, the truth is out, so be it, and hopefully for the better towards the actualisation of the noble cause she is fighting for. Her direct supporters, and all the rest of us, must come to terms with the new and more human image of the lonely tough-willed fighter, and carry the movement forward with renewed vigour. After all the movement is what is important, and with or without an iconic figure like Sharmila as standard bearer, it should carry on without any sense of loss or that the wind in the sail has diminished. She has done enough to highlight the issue, more than anyone behind the cause can imagine every doing. We should not be on the lookout for a martyr in her. Instead we should be encouraging her to end her self-inflicted privation and carry on the struggle without having to go through all the torture of unending hunger. The issue is the draconian AFSPA and not Irom Sharmila, however great she is.
We cannot however help wondering if Sharmila is not under psychological stress more than ever in the past few months. It is learnt that meeting her even by her own family members is no longer as easy as it used to be, permission now having to be acquired from the chief secretary of the state himself. All of us who have visited the iron lady in the past know her confinement was not so strictly guarded. For whatever the reason, her privation was being deepened and surely her loneliness too in equal measures, after all she is a human too. Imagine 11 years in a prison cell all alone, not even in contact with other prisoners as she is in a special jail ward in the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital Porompat so as to enable medical care and nose feeding. Not only this, going without food is not just about tolerating hunger. In fact, in her case, hunger may not be much of an issue for she is fed through the nose and kept alive. But her self-denial is more about foregoing taste and smell of food, some of the most gratifying of all human senses. Any lesser person would have lost sanity under the circumstance. Is this additional stress having a toll on her? We hope not. In any case, the campaign against the oppressive AFSPA has been allowed to hinge on Sharmila alone for too long. This was not good for her as she is finding out now, or for the movement, for it deprived individuality of individual campaigners, most of them having simply to rally behind Sharmila, abdicating in the process the need to take individual stances in the manner Eric Fromm described the emergence of dictatorships in “Escape from Freedom”. The episode is sad in another way though. The paradoxical thing is, to be a public leader entails a great deal of sacrifice of private life. Sharmila as a selfless crusader against the embodiment of an oppressive law automatically came to be lifted on an exalted public pedestal. Sharmila as a shy private woman can lead a happy individual life but will disappear from the public domain. This is the difference between an inspirational leader and a common citizen. The freedom to aspire for either should remain with the individual. Let Sharmila decide her own future without any guilt. She has contributed enough already. Manipur and its resistance against the AFSPA must however continue undeterred even if she decides to retire to a peaceful normal life.