Sharmila Dilemma

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Irom Sharmila is free again, but it is a foregone conclusion that she will be rearrested in a day or two probably on the same charge of attempt to commit suicide. But nobody, not even the diehard optimists expect anything but the charge of attempt to commit suicide will be slapped on her again, though technically, as Sharmila also reiterates, she is in love with life and has no intention of voluntarily ending her life at all. But, aside of all the rhetoric that fly around every time she emerges out of her lonely jail ward at the JN Hospital, and comes to be in the spotlight during her periodic court appearances and annual ritual of release from custody and re-arrest, nobody from their heart believes there is any real option but to arrest her again on this “false” charge. It may be recalled, her annual release are re-arrest have today become a dreary cyclic routine, but from the point of view of the law, a necessary ritual to get past the illegality of detaining someone without trial for over the stipulated of a year. Nobody has a real answer to free her from of this cycle. To ask her to be freed permanently from custody without first granting her demand of the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, would virtually amount to asking her to die for she still refuses to eat voluntarily. Her martyrdom thereafter would be destined to become the rallying point for more ritual protests and theatrics that this place has become so accustomed to.

The troubling thought is, many actually seem to be inviting such a tragedy so that they will have the opportunity to curse the tragedy that they first of all wished for. It is despairing to see Manipur so fatally attracted to self defeating death wishes, to allude to a Freudian metaphor. For a lot many others however, it is a tearing dilemma, for they want two seemingly irreconcilable outcomes –Sharmila free but alive. Irreconcilable because of what she is up against. It is unfortunate but true, that the Indian establishment at this moment is clueless as to what the liberal answer to AFSPA should be. Sharmila’s heroic resistance it does seem is headed to be paid for with the ultimate price. As well known public intellectual Ranabir Sammadar once noted in a lecture, redemptions in any powerful resistance movement, usually is associated with death. As a metaphor, he also noted how nobody at Jesus Christ’s time could have imagined the silent revolution that swept the whole world with his death as a culmination of his resistance.

Of late, the Sharmila story has been given another twist. She now has a private battle to fight, and this one too seems a losing one. She is a public figure with a huge following, some of whom almost deify her. Her fans understandably idolise her for certain super human qualities they attribute to her. Any perceived climb down from this idealistic pedestal they placed her on would be blasphemy in their eyes. For them she is not a mere mortal, and any act that they see as profaning that iconic image of her would outrage them. It is the same indignation with which believers discount all thoughts of possibilities that Jesus may have married and his blood descendants are still in this world. This is also the inner conflict all known public figures have had to deal with. As a private person, Sharmila is free to be what she wants to be. As a public figure, her role is somewhat predetermined by public expectations. The reconciliation that must be made is between the two worlds she inhabits. Her followers, and not the least she herself, would have to come to terms with this inner conflict. Let Sharmila continue to lead this epic struggle against a draconian law. But let her be what she wants to be too.

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