Esha Roy writing in Imphal informed readers that on August 10 and sixteen years after she started a hunger strike to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA) from the state, Irom Sharmila Chanu, popularly known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, emerged from behind bars. But the day ended on a bitter note, with residents of a colony where she had gone to stay turning her away, and a temple reportedly refusing to take responsibility for her.
At a press conference during the day, Sharmila said, “My love life is my personal life. That is my right to choose. It is only natural. I have ended my fast today because I want power, I want to be able to have the power to repeal AFSPA from Manipur. I want to become the Chief Minister of Manipur to be able to do this.”
Yes, a big statement but borne of so many years of reflection.
“Breaking her fast in front of national and international media, Sharmila was handed a 100 ml bottle of Dabur honey by her attending doctor. The honey was put in her right hand, which had begun to tremble. She stared at it for some time, before breaking down. Weeping inconsolably, Sharmila bent her head twice to taste the honey, but was unable to do so. Then, with her left index finger, she took a dab and tasted it. She cringed, then said, ‘I will never forget the taste of that.’ ”
All these years Sharmila has been force fed through a Ryles tube which tube has become a symbol of Manipur’s resistance against AFSPA and the militarisation of the state.
“In Manipur, there is no real democracy. Politics is so dirty here and everyone knows it. Manipuri society is also involved in this dirtiness but no one accepts it. That’s the problem. I am not restricted to this state or nation. I am the embodiment of revolution. I want to become the Chief Minister so I can change society here,” Sharmila is reported to have said to the gathered crowd and press.
Earlier in court, Sharmila had said that she wanted to contest the upcoming elections against incumbent Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. “I will contest as an independent candidate. If parties want to approach me, let them approach. In the meanwhile, I invite at least 20 other independent candidates to fight the elections alongside me so that together we can defeat Ibobi Singh and remove the present government,” she added. “I know nothing about politics and I have always been academically weak. But I will share my power.”
Indian-administered Kashmir is also caught up in similar conflicts and is the most reported but far away in the country’s north-east, tucked in the hills, is the small state of Manipur that witnesses like violent turmoil daily.
Since becoming part of India, Manipur, one of the “seven sister” states in the north-east, has been hit by protracted conflicts over ethnic and cultural sovereignty. Today there are as many as 34 active armed and unarmed non-state players operating within Manipur and across its eastern border with Myanmar, each pursuing particular but like-based goals.
In an attempt to quell the unrest, India in 1958 implemented the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the north-eastern states. Under the act Indian security forces were granted sweeping powers. This has led to a plethora of local stalemates as the central authorities have not done anything fundamentally changing the situations so far from the higher political affairs of central government.