The complex case of Irom Sharmila

"She has a court hearing on August 23 and Sharmila wants to attend the hearing, being in hospital," said Nandini Thokchom, a close friend.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST

Published - August 13, 2016 03:14 pm IST - Kolkata

An unusually complex situation has evolved in Imphal, soon after the star activist of the State, Irom Sharmila, broke her fast earlier in the week.

With a section of the press reporting that Ms. Sharmila has nowhere to go, the confusion about her whereabouts spread thick and fast. Till Friday night Ms Sharmila — referred often as ‘Iron Lady’ — remains unsure about her next home, while the Red Cross Society and individuals connected to Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights have come forward to provide shelter. Offers galore received from individuals residing outside the State. However, her friends told The Hindu that Sharmila will stay in Nehru Hospital in Imphal till August 23.

“She has a court hearing on August 23 and Sharmila wants to attend the hearing, being in hospital,” said Nandini Thokchom, a close friend, who is with Ms. Sharmila. Ms. Thockchom, a human rights defender, said that they are also not too keen to remove Ms. Sharmila from hospital as she needs “two-three weeks” to make the transition from liquid to semi-solid to solid food. “She is responding well and started having mashed banana, oats and corn flex. We have to be careful so she does not catch an infection,” Ms Thokchom said.

While her friends sighed in relief following Ms. Sharmila’s recovery, they are equally perplexed about the reluctance of the residents of Keishamthong colony in Imphal West to accommodate the Iron Lady soon after she got bail. “We do not know the reason behind their reluctance, while now they are keen to apologize,” said Ms Thokchom.

UG politics of Manipur

The reason perhaps is embedded in the fractured politics of Manipur. All the types put together, Manipur has more than 40 underground [UG] groups holding a partial sway over the State’s civil society. Some of the UGs are not happy about Sharmila’s decision to withdraw her fast.

“Since the UGs are powerful, so many of us — out of fear or empathy — reverberate what the UGs say and are not too keen to shelter her, antagonising the guerrillas,” said a senior journalist who was following Ms Sharmila’s struggle for many years. Another reason could be — the journalist said on condition of anonymity — Ms Sharmila’s interest to head the Manipur State, “a State that she has despised so long,” the journalist said.

Arguments for and against Sharmila

Ms. Sharmila’s friends provided a different narrative. They feel, Manipuri society is happy to have Irom Sharmila in hospital, while they continue with their usual chores.

“It is shameful that the Manipuris have not mounted any big movement in recent times, while expecting Sharmila to continue with the fast as all weather conscience keeper. Sharmila is first a human being and then ‘an Iron Lady,’ the society needs to remember that,” said another of her friends.

Another section of the Manipuri society, however, blamed Ms Sharmila for her plight, which ostensibly has nothing to do with her super star status.

Someone who has documented and wrote about Ms Sharmila over years said — again on condition of anonymity — that the Iron Lady has “repelled” the people of Manipur by issuing statements against her sympathisers.

“She has questioned the integrity of the same human rights activists, even her brother, who were with her and even said that if she does not win the election it would indicate that the Manipuris do not want ‘freedom’ from the Draconian law,” said a writer-activist who has documented Sharmila over years.

The Sharmila-camp, however, is reluctant to accept these allegations.

“A woman is living in a solitary confinement for years, while the world outside has nearly forgotten her. If she says a thing or two against her friends or even relatives…[is it] responsible journalism to pick those negligent words to mount an opinion against her,” asked one of her friends, a journalist.

“A process of churning is going on, even Sharmila is trying to cope with it…” said Ms Thokchom as more question was asked on phone about her elusive boyfriend and political plans. “…let us provide her with some time and peace, everything will be clear,” she signed off as Ms Thokchom’s feisty friend prepares to spend another lonely night in the Imphal hospital.

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