As The World's Longest Hunger Strike Ends Today, Many Questions Remain About The Fate Of Irom Sharmila

Not everyone's happy.

09/08/2016 7:45 AM IST | Updated 09/08/2016 9:15 AM IST
Vijay Mathur / Reuters
Irom Sharmila Chanu, 34, reacts during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi October 4, 2006.

As Irom Chanu Sharmila today ends her 16-year-long hunger strike, called to protest the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, there are many questions hanging in the air about the fate of the woman known as Manipur's 'Iron Lady' for her sheer grit and resolve. Not everyone is happy that Irom, who has been force-fed since 2000 through a nasal tube, has decided to choose the path of electoral politics over non-violent resistance.

There is also no clarity on where the prominent human rights activist, the global face of protest against army atrocities, will reside once she's free to leave judicial custody.

Namoijam Oken and Khetri Laba, members of the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), an insurgent group, and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), an ultra-leftist group, have asked Irom not to end her fast in an open letter released to the media. They have this grim reminder for her: former insurgents elected to the Manipur Assembly have been assassinated.

But among those disappointed with her decision is also her 84-year-old mother, Irom Sakhi.

"I have waited for the last 16 years. Every day, I prayed that Sharmila be successful in her mission. I had told her that the day AFSPA is repealed from Manipur, I will feed her the first morsel of food with my own hands. That is all I have to say," she told Indian Express, leaving no doubts about how she feels about her daughter's surprise decision.

Through years of arrests and rearrests on charges of attempt to commit suicide, Irom drew the international media to her state's plight and the Malom Massacre that sealed her fate in 2000. On 2 November, 2000, 10 Indians were shot dead, allegedly by the Assam Rifles, in Manipur's Malom town. Irom, who was 28 at that time, began her fast in protest against the army atrocity. However, it is evident from her comments that she is underwhelmed with the response of the Manipuri people in all these years.

"I am now convinced that my hunger strike can't bring me to my goal. I want to achieve my goal during my lifetime. So I decided to change my strategy," she told the Telegraph.

The response of her family is evidence of the fact that the peace activist has become a victim of her own cause. As awards poured in, her following grew. It was imperative that Irom Sharmila carry the torch for the Manipuri people, even at great personal sacrifice.

However, on a personal level, her disenchantment with the reaction of her people, is also perhaps the the trigger for her decision to get back into mainstream and pick up the pieces in her personal life, instead of continuing with a hunger strike that yielded no immediate result and failed to repeal AFSPA.

Her elder brother Irom Singhajit said: "I am not happy to know that she has decided to end her fast. What upsets me more is that she did not consult me or her mother before taking this important decision. I haven't been able to break this news to my mother because I am not sure how she will react."

She is likely to marry her companion Desmond Coutinho, a Goa-born British citizen. What perhaps is surprising is the reaction of human rights activists who do not want her to quit her cause, even at the cost of her health and happiness.

Suhas Chakma, former director of the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights, said this is a "bad judgement on her part". "What reason would she have to stop her fast now?" Chakma was quoted in the Telegraph as saying.

Though a large number of her supporters and women activists under the forum of Sharmila Kunba Lup will be meeting her as she starts her new journey, Irom Sakhi will be conspicuous by her absence, reported PTI.

"She will not go there to meet her. She is waiting for the moment of her victory which will come only when AFSPA is repealed."

"She will not go there to meet her. She is waiting for the moment of her victory which will come only when AFSPA is repealed," Singhajit said.

The family and her supporters, who have not been able to meet her since 26 July when she announced her decision to end her fast have no idea where she is going to stay.

"We don't know where she will go after her release. If she wants to come home and stay with us, we are ready to welcome her. But it is her desire," her brother told PTI.

Even her impending marriage has come under cloud with many in her state questioning her decision to tie the knot with an "outsider."

It remains to be seen whether politics can achieve what hunger strike could not for a woman who has became a living, breathing symbol of mass resistance.

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