One look at her and you see many emotions reflected through her eyes, serenity, passion, love and most of all, anguish. You still do not recognize or acknowledge her pathos, until you learn that she has not been eating since past fourteen years. And you wonder what it feels like to be force fed through nasogastric intubation, feed her through a tube attached to her nose?
Such people are rare who can demonstrate such relentless courage of conviction and determination in the face of intense pressure and intimidation by this hypocrite system. Irom Chanu Sharmila is rightly called as the 'Iron Lady of Manipur', a civil rights activist, political activist and a poet.
It all started on 2nd November 2000, when ten civilians were shot and killed while waiting at a bus stop in Malom, a town in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, allegedly by the Assam Rifles which is a part of the Indian Paramilitary forces under the comfortable shelter of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). This incident outraged the 'Iron Lady' to such an extent that she resolved for a fast undo death, unless the AFSPA was revoked.
AFSPA is apparently a law that gives the forces the right to raid without warrant, kill innocent civilians, molest them,rape them or just announce them as 'terrorist' and then kill them. Its about barging in a home at midnight and arrest their daughters, kill the males, even the kids and leave the women wailing. But all this is justified, perhaps, because this law is a 'national necessity'. Who are we fighting with? Who are we protecting? And who are we protecting from whom? All this remains a conundrum for me.
Recently a court ordered her release from custody, subject to there being no other grounds for detention. She was under custody for her 'fast' interpreted as 'attempt to commit suicide'. The casual manner in which she walked out of the court and the simplicity in her greatness was intriguing.
'How do you feel Irom?'
'It's God's will.' And her eyes wells up.
'You are crying. You should be happy. Why are you crying Irom?'
'I just got emotional...but it's a draconian law. The fight will continue.'
One often wonders about the intriguing and self-sacrificing nature of activists. What gives them the courage to stand firmly by the causes they believe in, or give up so much of their life for the well-being of others? Perhaps sometimes the inner conscience of people takes them so far that they stop fearing anything. And that's a place of ultimate peace. Irom has always maintained that her struggle is spiritual. Perhaps that's where she draws her strength from.
This particular poem titled 'Wake Up' by Irom Sharmila herself is very apt here.