Breathing Space for Sharmila

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Irom Sharmila Chanu’s release from judicial custody is remarkable. After 13 years of confinement, the Manipur Session judge finds not enough evidence to support that Sharmila was attempting to end her life. Whatever reason the State administration may give for her forced confinement, it is clear that the attempt was to nullify her political activism undertaken for revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. Or rather, it has been an attempt to silence the voice – a voice which champions the cause of human rights. Needless to say, her crusade against the Act has no parallels. Rightfully, Sharmila has been at media’s focus. Sharmila has been a favourite ‘story’ of the media. She deserves attention because of the rarity of her act, against the draconian Act. Media will continue to report Sharmila’s story even after her movement comes to an end – given that AFSPA is revoked from the Constitution of India. Sharmila’s struggle is being witnessed at a time when news reporting can have background music, capable of sprinkling emotive effects into a story. Post liberalisation, the 24 x 7 television news channel has added new dimension to news reporting. There are competitions among the news channels to deliver the latest news, with fastest reporting to meet the fast-pace life-style. Business logic also suggests that the channels meet the profit demand of corporate ownership. For instance, the flock of television channels that have landed in Imphal in the wake of Sharmila’s release cannot return back empty handed without a story. A television news crew is almost a small-budget film crew, with cameraperson, reporter and their equipment. Financial investment into this kind of news trip is something one cannot give away as charity money for a cause. Reasonably, in their attempt to get a ‘story’, different from their competitors’, they try to extract as many stories out of Sharmila. Insensitive to the fact that Sharmila has just come out from a confinement, wherein she was forced fed, the only question that the television journalists seem to have is a “How do you feel?” Words are virtually put into her mouth to suit their premeditated stories. This is not to question their professional commitment, or to put their credibility at the altar of ruthless diatribes, but a gentle reminder that they have a big responsibility, considering the depth and extent of their reach. Sensationalism must be checked. In our attempt to get the best story, one should not trample upon the subject. Sharmila did not descend from the heavens in a supernatural phenomenon. She rather emerges from the clutches of an oppressive apparatus, which has dislocated the people in their own land. What is extraordinary about Sharmila is that she is an ordinary human being albeit with an extraordinary spirit. Let us give her some more breathing space, for she has pledged to continue her struggle. On her release, Sharmila has appealed that instead of felicitations and adulations to her, people take the right pledges, which shall be beacon for a decisive act against this affront of an act against humanity.

Leader Writer: Senate Kh

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