Our payback to Irom Sharmila Chanu – Respecting her decision

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Have you ever been nose-fed for 16 days let alone 16 years? For those who are comatosed and terminally ill, it’s a different matter. The irony is that after all the pain and sufferings Irom Sharmila Chanu had endured for 16 years at a stretch for us, she’s being looked down upon with scorn and contempt and despised like an outcaste turning her into a “Despicable Me” of the society and exiled in her very homeplace with some localities and places of valley area not welcoming her, shunning her, threatening her in tandem with push and shove and rubbing cold shoulders towards her. The mammoth question is, who are we to give judgment to Sharmila and dictate terms that she should reconsider her decision of quitting fast, refrain from entering politics viz a viz?
We the people of Manipur are comprised of lotta hypocrites. We tend to say we are easy going, carefree, open-minded people, but deep to the core we are a selfish bunch. We gulp down delicious eatables down our bellies and watched Sharmila being nose-fed in solitary confinement at JNIMS isolation ward and to appear on and off before the courts of law except some members of SAKAL under their temporary hut nearby on a relay-basis fast as a mark of showing solidarity and support towards Sharmila’s phenomenal struggle. What our conscience wanted was Sharmila to maintain her status quo, wait for countdown with the notion that her days were numbered and then after her demise make a hue and cry or eruption of “June 18” type civil uprising, with the high-decibel repercussion rocking the Centre till AFSPA is repealed from Manipur, then calling her a martyr, erect a statue in her memory, name a place or a road and institute awards in her name and the likes. But those are only assumptions from our side. The ground reality may turn out to be topsy turvy. And then what? The Indian democracy will remain demoncratic as ever. However, I convey my heartfelt regards to Sharmila’s brother Singhajit for his unstinting and relentless support to her sister’s struggle by even giving up his government job.
Sixteen years of fast is nearly one-fourth of a life time. Sharmila had dedicated her youthful years for us. It is she who was “onstage”, we were mere spectators. Thus, she knows quite well that even after 16 years of fast, it would be a pyrrhic victory for her to continue any longer, for her fast didn’t give any impetus nor thrust for attainment of her goal i.e. to remove AFSPA 1958 from Manipur. Well, there are questions galore whether Coutinho, her lover is an angel of mercy or a government of India’s agent sent on a cardinal mission to brainwash Sharmila from her firm stand. The investigative journalists need to have a comprehensive post-mortem on his multifarious activities as a social activist and find out the truth whether he is a pure hearted entity or a placid lake infested with crocs. But let’s keep that matter at bay for the time being. When Sharmila revealed that Coutinho is her fiancé, there’s nothing we need to get scornful of. She is a human, has a heart, has a mind and has full liberty to make her own decisions. It’s her personal choice. Dictating terms that she should re-consider her stand and re-carry on her fast by presenting our ferocity towards her is again tantamount to abuse of human rights. We did not beg her to go on fast from 05 Nov 2000, she started her epic fast on her own will, for our own good, and she has full liberty to stop her fast, even though the people were startled and ‘panic attacked’ at her sudden revelation of breaking her fast without consulting SAKAL, other civil society organisations and even her brother who stood for her at all times.
Here, we better make a thorough soul searching of ourselves and ask ourselves some questions. Well, many civil societies from the state, national stream and even from abroad stand for her and support her, but have we the people of Manipur ever observed any anniversary collectively as a way of giving honour to Sharmila’s epic struggle on any 05 Nov, the day when she started her fast? Though each one of us used to say, “I support her at all times”, how frequently have we gathered and carried out mass rallies in support of Sharmila or carried out meetings and convocations as acts of solidarity for her except on a few occasions. Have we ever produced a calendar, card or a diary and other paraphernalia with her picture? Have we ever worn a T-shirt or other attire with her picture imprinted on it? How many placards of Sharmila have been displayed in and around Imphal city except huge hoardings of Airtel 4G, Idea 4G etc streaming only 2G speed? Would not she be more encouraged and motivated if we used to hold a collective fast on the streets in her honour on every 5th November of the preceding years? In fact, we are too busy with our day to day affairs, only scan her developments or activities and only heap our narrow minded judgments upon her.
Now, with her 16 years of marathon fast, AFSPA has grown from an amoebic issue (taken from other nations’ view) to a colossal one, known through every nook and corner of the world because of Sharmila’s arduous struggle. Now the world knows that AFSPA is undemocratic, an act not fit to be given a place in the Indian Constitution. The irony is that it is the Indian democratic set up that refuse to budge. Her herculean task was tantamount to blowing a trumpet at the back of an elephant. Even the Supreme Court, the apex body of the judiciary had recently expressed that AFSPA is too draconian a law to be incorporated in a democratic country. Some forward motion from the judicial side are Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission 2005, Second Administrative Reforms Committee 2005 &  Justice Santosh Hadgre Commission 2013 which were instituted to review AFSPA but so far have been kept in the cold storage, never seeing the light of the day. It is the very democratic set-up of India that should bear the brunt of shame, for AFSPA 1958 is not relevant in a democracy. Here, it is pertinent to mention that India, in the name of democracy is still firmly adopting the system of British Colonial Raj because AFSPA 1958 is a shotgun progeny of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance introduced by the British in 1942 as an emergency state to suppress the Quit India Movement and all kinds of freedom movements all over British ruled Indian subcontinent. Sharmila has only changed her strategy, but her aim remains unchanged. Only that she wants AFSPA to be totally weeded out from the Indian Constitution and witness it while she is alive, while she is on earth and not on heaven by harnessing greater power from the political corridor.
It’s a bold move that she had announced her desire of contesting the Assembly Election  2017 from Thoubal Assembly Constituency, the stronghold of the incumbent Chief Minister and not from Khurai Assembly Constituency. At this juncture, I would like to really appreciate the opinion voiced by Free Thinker (Poking Nose Without Malice) that contesting for election whilst during her fast would have a more positive impact. In fact, that way, it would really be a cakewalk for her to emerge victorious as an MLA from whatever constituency she chooses and drop her fast after winning the assembly election. No doubt, she has changed her stand, but it is quite dim to predict that approximately 20 like-minded independent candidates would jump out of the fray to her support in the status quo of the political mill churning in Manipur. Instead of opting for Chief Ministership, it is my humble opinion that she opt for Member of Parliament for if she were an MP, she could surely garner some like-minded MPs from North East region and Jammu & Kashmir and unanimously voice against AFSPA with great thrust for AFSPA is deeply ingrained in the Indian Constitution with even the Supreme Court, of late, questioning the validness of this very Act. But for scrapping this draconian Act, the force and the fireworks should erupt from within the walls of the House of the Parliament. With strong support from the Judiciary, a unanimous move from the Legislature will have the sufficient leverage for a sure-shot solution of scrapping this very Act from the Indian Constitution.
Instead of keeping grudges against Sharmila, I may not be wrong to state that she had endured more than her share of sufferings for us, for our better tomorrow. It’s time we unite, respect her change of strategy and collectively stand for her for she is the harbinger of crusade against AFSPA. It won’t be that hard. All we need is to roll the wheels of our thought process, quite elementary. Irom Sharmila Chanu is our light in the darkness and we are her hopes. The relationship between Sharmila and the people of Manipur should be symbiotic. It’s time for our payback towards her for the sufferings she had endured for us for so long and that is nothing but respecting and supporting her stand.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected] gmail.com)

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