Homeless And Uncertain: Irom Sharmila's Life After She Broke Her 16-Year-Long Fast

She's still determined.

17/08/2016 12:46 PM IST | Updated 17/08/2016 4:28 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
The Iron lady of Manipur.

On 9th August 2016, Irom Chanu Sharmila, known as 'The Iron Lady Of Manipur', ended her 16-year-long fast, a feat without parallel in history.

For sixteen years, she fought for the rights of Manipuris to live without the fear of state brutality. Her struggle was for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958--a law enforced in Jammu & Kashmir and the northeastern states, including Manipur.

When she announced her decision to break her fast and move on to marriage and electoral politics, there was widespread disbelief and debate around her decision. Since 9 August, when she broke her fast with honey and water, followed by Horlicks and chabon--a Manipuri rice soup--life has changed in major ways for the activist who has become a symbol of determination and resistance.

After she announced her decision to take part in electoral politics, she was promptly dumped by the people on whose behalf she has been fighting the long fight at great personal cost.

Here are the events that have followed since the 'Iron Lady' decided to break her fast.

After breaking her fast at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIM), Irom was taken by the police to two places of her choice to take up residence.

First, she was taken to the house of an activist, Thiyam Suresh, a former doctor who had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against AFSPA.

However, she was turned down by the residents, allegedly daunted by the threats of insurgent outfits upset with her decision to break her fast to contest elections.

Her own family didn't want her. Locals came out to object whenever somebody offered her shelter.

The 44-year-old then went to the ISKCON temple to find temporary residence. But she couldn't stay there for 'security reasons.' She had to go back to the police station and then back to JNIM--which had been her home for the last 16 years.

"I had hoped to eat from the hands of children. I had also written a 538-line poem in our local Poumen language for them, for the people. It was a dream, which got shattered," she told Mumbai Mirror.

A day later, the Indian Red Cross Society opened its door to Irom.

"We are contemplating to request her to stay with us for as long as she wants. We will take a decision very soon and make the offer to her," Y Mohen Singh, secretary of the IRCS Manipur, told The Telegraph.

However, the Red Cross had put a condition that Irom should not indulge in political activities during her stay on the organisation premises.

As the news spread that Irom Sharmila has nowhere to go, there were offers from Bollywood celebrities and others residing outside the State. Several people welcomed her.

NurPhoto via Getty Images
A sand sculpture of Manipurs Iron Lady Irom Chanu Sharmila looks at the Bay of Bengal Seas eastern coast beach at Puri.

However, Irom has decided to stay in the hospital for now. At least till August 23, when she will attend a court hearing.

Nandini Thokchom, a close friend of Irom, told The Hindu that they are not too keen to remove her from the 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 flakes. We have to be careful so she does not catch an infection," Thokchom said.

Doctors treating Irom at the hospital said that she had been put on a special liquid diet as she could not shift to oral food immediately.

"She has not eaten for so many years. Her digestive system has to acclimatise itself to oral feeding," said Dr. Singh, head of the Pathology department at the JNIMS.

While Irom is being treated, functionaries of Sharmila Kanba Lup (Save Sharmila Campaign), which had been supporting her since 2008, has accused the government of brainwashing her to enter politics to stall the movement against AFSPA.

The group has decided to move ahead with their struggle against AFSPA without the 44-year-old activist.

"We will remove Sharmila's name from all our posters (from) all our campaigns. She has nothing to do with us any longer. We feel disappointed and let down by her," said L Madhu Laima, one of the campaigners of the movement.

Meanwhile, Medha Patkar, the activist who was a founder member of Narmada Bachao Andolan, has invited Irom to join her in her 'people's movement' against state repression.

Irom Sharmila licks honey from her hand to break her fast.

In a letter addressing to the 'Iron Lady', she said, "I congratulate her on her decision to seek a new path, a new strategy to take forwards the struggle against AFSPA."

"We stood with her, but was that enough? Fasting is no more an inspirational tool for struggle, which will move the powers that be. The martyrdom of Swami Nigamanand to save Ganga River or Gurucharan Chhabra for liquor prohibition after prolonged fasting exposes this. Since, they cannot tolerate the violence in society, state repression and apathy of the world they inhibit. Still they undertake the sacrifice, hearing their inner voice. This is what our long struggle in Narmada valley has also shown us this harsh reality of the state and society. As I write this we sit on the banks of Narmada pondering over the way forwards, even as we continued to challenge the stat and its forced and illegal submergence," she wrote.

And while people are trying to find a home for Irom and finding new fights for her, another lady from Imphal has started following Irom's footsteps.

On Saturday, the police picked up Arambam Robita, editor of Women and Crime Journal, a monthly magazine, for sitting on a fast-unto-death, demanding the repeal of AFSPA.

"After Sharmila broke her fast, people of Manipur wanted somebody to come forward to carry on the stir. So, I have decided to continue the movement showing respect to the people's wish and adopting her ideology," the 32-year-old said.

For Irom Sharmila, a life awaits. When she broke her fast, she had said that she would like to get married to her long-time boyfriend Desmond Coutinho.

However, now her focus is only on politics. She has announced that she would only get married if people reject her fresh innings as a politician.

"I've imposed one condition on entering my personal life. If the masses ignore my new strategy and abandon or insult me, I'll begin a new chapter of my life," she said.

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