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Irom Sharmila Speaks Her Heart Out On Love, Politics And Womanhood

"I want to feel like a real woman."

14/03/2017 6:58 PM IST | Updated 14/03/2017 8:28 PM IST
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File photo of Manipur Human Rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila.

It's Irom Sharmila's 45th birthday. And it's the first time in 16 years that she's not under arrest and fasting in protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA). Days after she lost in her maiden election, what lies ahead for the human-rights activist? She has already announced that she was quitting political life, but will continue fighting against AFSPA as a social activist.

But what about her personal life?

In the run-up to the elections earlier this year, HuffPost India had asked Sharmila about her plans after elections. Below are edited excerpts.

Modest Living

The room was almost bare, with four tables joined together at one end. A few scattered chairs, a couple of computers and a printer were the only remnants of what used to be an advertising office in Imphal. This is where Irom Sharmila had consented to be interviewed. "She doesn't like giving interviews," one of her aides, a thirty-something man who had set the interview up, told me. "She feels it takes up too much of her time."

A few minutes later, she entered, taking off her bamboo hat. Silently, she slipped into the chair behind a table, as her aide handed her a list of questions I had emailed the previous night. A personal question I had added as an afterthought had been struck off, and I was advised against asking any private questions, as she did not entertain them. I was later to find out that she had no such qualms.

BIJU BORO via Getty Images
Right activist, Irom Sharmila sits after losing her battle against three-time Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh in the assembly election, in Imphal, the capital city of north-eastern state of Manipur on March 11, 2017.

Sharmila likes riding her bicycle everywhere, and likes the freedom it affords her. She had ridden her cycle to the interview as well. "Riding bicycle is very good," she said, grinning. "(I like) depending on myself so (I'm) free to move around to reflect myself without interference. (sic)"

It has been years since she saw herself in the mirror, she said. The traditional bamboo hat she wears is for shielding herself from the sun.

"I really don't know if it is for fashion or hiding myself," she said, in response to a question on whether it helps her move around anonymously in Manipur. "I just use it to protect from light. I don't use mirror. I have not much bothering about its reaction. For so long years I have been on my journey without a mirror, without comb. After getting my goal (to repeal AFSPA) I will resume. (sic)"

A Dream, Deferred

Sharmila has spoken earlier that she would like to get married to her fiance Desmond Coutinho but she has received a lot of criticism from her supporters in the past. She told HuffPost India that she wanted to get married after the election even if others did not support it.

"With my conscience I want to do my duty with my life (and) go my way with my conscience (and) not based on others' principles," she said.

"I have own conscience own judgment to follow also. And as to my personal life, no one can dictate me."

She spoke about how she needed to feel "whole" and live a "natural life".

"I really need these things to be happen," she said, "I mean my natural life of being a human, imitating the natural phenomenon living beings, so that my course of life being peaceful... more perfect."

BIJU BORO via Getty Images
Indian human rights activist and election candidate Irom Sharmila (C) takes part in her final day of election campaigning for the second phase of assembly elections in Thoubal district of Manipur on March 6, 2017.

She said that it was essential to have people find another person to "make up a whole", and that if one person runs their family alone, there was an " automatic hollowness", making life imperfect.

"(In) my political life also I need my political partner to consult with me. Just when my mood is too low he will lift up me just my mood is too high he will press me to keep me balanced," she said. "Politically, economically, socially, I need that help, that reality of being natural."

When asked what her plans were for this kind of life, she laughed.

"Plans, plans, lot of plans!" she said. "People surround me don't want intervention from my fiance. As we have no legal bonding right now I can't have his help in need now."

"And for the time being I have to tackle with it but once the election is over I want my own family," she said.

"And feel like a real woman."

Please Do Not Disturb

Wasn't she afraid that her supporters would be angry, just like many of them were after she gave up her fast?

An otherwise calm interviewee, the question set off Sharmila's temper. "It's no one's right to interfere with my life's choice and as long as I do my duty of life my responsibility to the society," she said, adding that it was no one's "right" to decide if she should be single or part of a relationship.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
File photo of Irom Sharmila after she broke her fast last August.

Asked whether she expected any interference when she did get married, she said, "Let them! I don't bother." Her personal life was not a public issue, she said.

Does it disappoint her? "It's just the ordeal of life," she said.

"I just want to show the reality of me of being social to the world," she said. "And love gives the taste of life and power to my walk of life."

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