Sharmila has just returned from Delhi where she had been summoned to appear before the Patiala House Court, in a case slapped against her for hunger striking in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA 1958. The charge has nothing to do with the AFSPA though. It is on the other hand about her imagined attempt to commit suicide. Some see this charge as absurd, but there obviously is more than meets the eye. The situation tells further of the uniqueness of Sharmila’s protest, and how even the notion of suicide is called upon to be redefined after her. Interestingly, this is a question raised by the acts of someone from a past generation, Mahatma Gandhi. Can a person who decides to willingly give up a vital bodily survival need – that of nutrition – in support of a cause, even if it is the most just, be guilty of suicide attempt. If it does, it never applied to Gandhi, for he was never arrested, detained or force fed, as Sharmila is being subject to for this act. Maybe it is the approaches of the government then and now. Maybe Sharmila’s arrest is not born out of any State venom, and that it is just another way of not allowing her to die. This of course involves a morally uneasy acknowledgment that what she is fighting for is in vain.
It is never going to be an easy answer. There is also unlikely ever to be an honest answer either, precisely because such an answer is next to impossible. Given the fact that condemnable though the AFSPA may be, it is unlikely to go just as yet, should the right approach be to free Sharmila and let her starve to death, or should she be made to live, under detention and force-feeding? No wonder the idea of an ultimate resistance has never ever been dissociated altogether from its fearsome companion – death. From Jesus to Sharmila, this idea has remained. This being the case, the feeling that swell in you cannot be more ambiguous. You feel guilty to encourage her in her struggle, for would amount to asking her to give up so much, including life. You feel guilty not to support her either, for there cannot be a more just cause than hers.
If those who support and care for Sharmila are in this Catch-22 dilemma, it is almost beyond imagination what struggles Sharmila must be going through herself in her lonely 14 year super human odyssey. It is however sad to notice an increasing anxiety in her that she is not getting the kind of support for her struggle as she would like. This was again indicated in her statement to the media recently upon her return from Delhi. Here too, it is difficult to imagine what is expected of all who claim to place their solidarity with her. Are they expected to also decide to join the hunger strike? Should they also be willing to give up their lives? While such expectations would rank as unrealistic by any standard, we believe there are ways of extending this moral support in a substantive ways that go beyond the lip service of condemning the AFSPA. Let her spirit of sacrifice be imbibed by all so they too may be willing to sacrifice in ways within their capacity. It would for instance be in this spirit if the people, for their own greater common good, decide to give up the selfishness of corruption, so that the society may begin to be fair and just, where honesty and industry are rewarded, thus making way for the fountainhead of creativity to be unchained again. This would take the society a long way towards a final resolution to so many of its vexed problems. This would also, we are sure, rekindle hope in Sharmila’s heart in her heroic struggle.