'Sharmila, I salute you!'

Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2016-08-10 17:02 On August 9, 2016, Irom Chanu Sharmila ended her 16-year-old - 5757 days to be precise - hunger strike. Her protest, which lasted for 16 long years, is a world record. It is not a small matter to do such campaigns.  She stood for her own idealism and fought against an Act which she terms as draconian. I will not dwell on the merits of her demands, but I respect her grit; her resolve to send a message to society. Now, I respect her decision to end the strike; her decision to marry her soulmate; her decision to contest elections. But the groups which had supported her all along are not happy. Some extremist organisations have even threatened her against marrying an ‘outsider’. Some have warned against stopping the hunger strike. The woman who fought for human rights is now under attack. Shortly after ending her fast, Sharmila reportedly said, "I want to join politics as I've been called the Iron lady of Manipur and I want to live up to that name. I want to be the chief minister of Manipur and I want my people to believe in me."  Even after 16 years, she is firm on one thing: democracy should rule, not extremism. She has decided not to be under the security net, and to list in an ashram. I salute her. I can say, for people like Irom Sharmila, it is difficult to lead an idealistic life. Manipur, one of the seven states of North-East, is a harsh place to nurture idealism in a peaceful way. Having visited Manipur some 27 years ago (1989), I can say that it is a heaven devastated by politicians. If my memory serves me right, I had a chance to visit the same Yaskul Women Association (to which Sharmila belongs) then. These women were fighting the menace of drug abuse. They were beating men, young and adults, with specially made wooden sticks, whenever they found them drugged. I had interacted with these women leaders, who looked so simple and unassuming, making baskets at their homes.  But by night, they transformed into fierce fighters. I visited the drug rehabilitation centre and found more than 600 youth being treated. I also saw women leading the market place (which I heard was bombed few days ago), and men just sitting idle. It was astonishing to witness such women power in Manipur, which was even quoted in the Mahabharata. I also saw Manipur as a place which was under-developed, with muddy roads. I saw poverty but I also witnessed the warmth. I remember Jeevan Singh, who spent a week with me. Still, Manipur has not changed much even now. Though there are women who sat with Sharmila, no leader from other parts of India stood with her continuously. Yes, there were lip sympathies, statements and all. She may win or lose in elections, but she has won the hearts of people. Sharmila has every right to decide her course of action. She can marry, live as she likes, and participate in the democratic election process. Nobody has a right to stop her. In fact, no human rights organisation has any moral right to criticise her. Mahatma Gandhi wore simple clothes. He did not even wear a shirt. No other person followed this act, not even symbolically. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 26 years. Anna Hazare, after fighting the political system for years, went back to his social work. There are such examples, where idealism becomes a lone act. But it does not deter the person to follow his dream. I am not attempting to quote just few global/national leaders. There are innumerable commoners who have been piously following their own idealistic life for decades. They are not followed by a crowd; they do not have publicity. Yet, they do not deviate. At a time when Dipa Karmakar, the girl from neighboring Tripura is making national news at Rio Olympics by becoming the first Indian gymnast to enter the finals, Sharmila’s life has taken a historic twist.  We also know about Mary Kom - India’s finest boxer who hails from Manipur.  Let us thank Sharmila for her democratic way of fighting, because the same Act is resisted in Jammu