Irom Sharmila Chanu has completed 11 years of an epic protest against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958. She has not managed to bend the will of the government yet, but definitely has had liberal India campaigning behind her in a big way. Fanatics of course are not impressed as was evidenced by the attack on her supporters in New Delhi recently during their campaign to drum up nationwide awareness of her uniquely democratic protest against an Act with is by contrast, equally unique by its lack of faith in democratic values. The campaign nevertheless was not deterred and November 5, the day Sharmila officially completed eleven years of her fast was observed as a day of the democracy’s resilience throughout India, human rights workers as much as anybody who swore faith in democracy.
The more important question is, what it the way forward. This, as everybody will understand is the most difficult question of all. To encourage Sharmila to fight on would almost be like asking her to die. On the other hand, to ask her to quit would also be another death. After 11 years of an epic struggle, how can she be asked to give up her high profile struggle just like that with any sense of justice? It is understandable that many think she has a right to not live through more of this self inflicted torment. However the paradox is, her fast has now become a compelling reality of its own. She understandably knows choosing between what so many think is the life she has given up and what could ultimately have become her true reality, is not going to be easy. The point is, there is no other answer now on what the next course of action for her should be other than what she decides what it should be. In this sense, those who egg her on to continue with the fast and those who think she should be persuaded to abandon her fast, belong to the same camp, though seemingly desiring different outcomes of Sharmila’s fast. This is also one way of saying the alternatives before any arbitration in the case, how much so ever difficult, does not have to be always between the black and the white. Between these to extreme poles, there are millions of shades, or colours, if you like. Right and wrong do not always have to be on extreme poles.
To believe that Sharmila is acting solely on the pressures or expectation of others, is to believe Sharmila is a puppet dancing to the tunes of her puppeteers. A woman who can endure 11 years of doing away with the sense of taste can be anything else other than this. No other insult heaped on her, and indeed womanhood as such, cannot be more patronising than this. Let it be acknowledged by one and all that she entered this battlefield of her own will – a will that is stronger than almost all, if not all, including her male counterparts who often tend to be paternalistic on the matter. If at all anybody thinks she should carry on as she has been, or else leave and get back to the so called “normal life”, they must first take the trouble of meeting and persuading her why she must take one course or the other. To do anything else is to undermine her strength of conviction in what she had set out to do eleven years ago. In other words, let anybody who is concerned enough be so bold as to advise her to take one or the other course not be so arrogant as to think in terms of pronouncing a verdict on where she has gone wrong or right. Even if this judgment is justified from the objective approach this cannot be so from the spiritual vantage. Certain senses of defeat or success are merely administrative in nature and in this sense never has managed to present the complete and thereby the correct picture. Irom Sharmila presents this paradox more than most other examples history has thrown up. She is a woman who has virtually given up life, or its finer flavours that give it meaning, in the pursuit of a cause she is convinced is public justice. Who then is any of us to merely pronounce what is good or bad on the matter? Give Sharmila the latitude to decide on matters which she has demonstrated she can give her life. Those eager to advice Sharmila should be humble enough to acknowledge Sharmila is an individual with a fierce sense of independence and not anybody any “thought tyrant” can bully or be simply pushed to do their biddings.