Irom Chanu Sharmila
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
"As an independent human being, Sharmila undertook her Fast, in obedience to her conscience. As the days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and now almost 1.5 decades, her personal reason – obedience to the truth within her – has been usurped by family, supporters, and society, to the point where, she is expected to continue the Fast, no matter what. "
---Aunty Kamala, writing in 2013, three years before many people expressed disappointment when Irom ended her fast (in July 2013).
Growing up in Imphal
Who was Irom Sharmila: A look at the life she has lost, and memories that sustain her
Home was a large compound in Porompat colony in Imphal, where an extended family of 19 members lived. She was the youngest of nine siblings, a loner who stood out from the rest of the riotous gang of brothers, sisters and cousins. She was not a sharp child at school, and gave up her dreams of becoming a doctor when she realised she did not have the “brains” for it. She tried but could not clear her Class XII examinations.
But she remembers the 2 km walk to school as an adventure. Her father, Irom Nanda, was an attendant in the state veterinary department. To Porompat’s residents, he was Dr Nanda, for the care he would take of their ailing dogs, cows, pigs and other animals. From him, she says, she draws her love for animals and nature. Her father was a great influence in her life. “He was very strict in handling his children but always fair – I think I am like my father that way. He would not even allow us to play games that could become an addiction. Like I was never allowed to play with marbles. But sometimes he would give me a lift to the school on his cycle, and he would tell me many stories on the way,’’ she says.
Hers was a family of modest means, with most occupied in farming or rearing pigs. Though the 1980s were the heights of the insurgency, they lived a sheltered life. Only in their bedtime stories were they told about Manipur’s heroes and those lost in the conflict. “We would hear of the disappearances and about the revolutionaries fighting against the state. It was as if we knew them personally. Sometimes I would imagine them walking up and down our backyard,’’ she says.
But any teenager growing up in Manipur then could not but be affected by the armed forces’ overbearing presence and the daily violence that people faced. “Once I was on my bicycle coming back from a friend’s house. At the corner of a bridge, there were three rickshawpullers, one of them barely a child. His face was half covered with a dirty cloth. An army vehicle drove by. And, suddenly, without rhyme or reason, one of the army guys took his baton and started hitting the boy from inside the vehicle. They just took off after that. I was so shocked. I have never forgotten that,’’ she says.
Though her academic aspirations never quite took off, she did a short course in journalism for six months and learnt stenography for a year. She was still searching for a purpose in life. “But I knew that somehow I wanted to do something for the people around me,’’ she says. She started attending seminars and workshops on women’s rights, the conflict in Manipur and wrote for a local paper called Hueiyen Lanpao.
Growing up in Manipur, Irom actively espoused social issues during her college days and participated in rallies to protest against violation of civil rights. Sharmila was also part communities such as the All-Manipur Students’ Union for Sightless, Centre for Organization Research and Education, Human Rights Alert People close to Sharmila talk about her passion for journalism and literature right from an early age.
Esha Roy continues:
When the Malom massacre happened on November 2, 2000, she was a volunteer at Human Rights Alert, helping victims of violence, compiling cases and taking part in protests and peace marches.
“I was at a preparatory meeting for a peace rally when I first heard of the incident,’’ she says. It was a Thursday. Like many Hindu Manipuri women, she would fast on Thursdays in the belief that the goddess stepped out of households that day for an “outing’’. The news of the brutal killing of 10 people waiting at a bus stop in Malom left her shaken. She never broke her fast.
“I thought what is the point of working for peace unless we do something drastic. I was so upset that I didn’t eat. At first, I thought, ‘Let me keep lying in bed’. I didn’t even tell my mother that I was still fasting. There was a curfew in Imphal and on the fourth day, I made myself attend a meeting. People sensed something was wrong. They told me I needed to take my fast into the public sphere. So I went to get my mother’s blessing and then I left home,’’ she says.
She remembers the last meal she had had. She had been to a bakery and bought two boxes of sweets. “I don’t remember what they were. But I came back home, sat under the shade of the bamboo grove behind our house and ate them all by myself. I didn’t want to share them with anyone,’’ she says with a giggle. [Seema Somshekar reminds us that 'the shooting took place on a Thursday, a day that Sharmila usually observed a fast.']
Esha Roy continues: Of the day that took away her daughter from her, Sharmila’s 84-year-old mother Irom Sakhi remembers it was the harvesting season. “Everyone was in the paddy fields. Sharmila had stopped talking to everyone, so disturbed she was about Malom. She came and asked me for my blessings. I didn’t know of her intentions, so I blessed her. If I had known, I would never have let her start it,’’ she says.
She knows, however, that she would not have been able to dissuade Sharmila from her mission. “Even as a child, she was stubborn. If she decided to do something, she would do it. So, once I realised what her cause was, I decided to support her. I made her promise that till AFSPA was repealed from Manipur, she would not meet me,” she says. Sharmila is released every year for a day by the court, and promptly rearrested for attempt to suicide.
But her mother is the one person she has not met.
A fish pond separates Sakhi’s house from that of her son Irom Singhajit, who runs a trust for Sharmila. Estranged from his family when he married his wife, it was Sharmila who brought him back to the fold. But their relations are now strained. “When Sharmila decided to go on this fast, I decided to leave my job so that I could support her,’’ he says. Singhajit was 41 at the time, working as an agriculture officer in the state government. “When she started fasting, there were all kinds of rumours about Sharmila. Some said she was mad. Others said that she came from a very poor family and was being paid to do this. Another rumour was that she had a boyfriend who died in the Malom massacre. People just could not understand why anyone would do something like this,” he says.
He also remembers Sharmila as different from the rest of the brood, far more connected to nature. “We Meiteis love our fish and meat. But she was vegetarian, sometimes she preferred eating raw vegetables and nothing else,” he says. When she was arrested and taken to jail in 2000, he tried convincing her to give up her fast. “But she said, ‘If you support my fast I will meet you, if you don’t, this is the last time we will ever meet’,” says Singhajit.
Their relations soured when her brother opposed Sharmila’s match with Coutinho — also when allegations surfaced that he had pocketed the money from her awards, refusing to donate it to charities of her choice.
In the 14 years of this remarkable, non-violent protest, much has changed in Manipur. The conflict has claimed more lives, found new icons in victims like Thangjam Manorama Devi, and even corroded Sharmila’s close ties with her brother. Though AFSPA was removed from a few parts of Imphal after Manorama’s rape and murder in 2004, the law has remained what it was. Against the implacable indifference of the Indian state, Sharmila continues to pit her iron will. “People in India see me as a separatist. But that’s not who I am. I am struggling for India’s integrity too. After the way the army has behaved here, if the government does not agree to repeal AFSPA, India will lose Manipur automatically. The government fears that repealing AFSPA will result in losing Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan as well. I would like to ask the government: why don’t you try and connect to the hearts of the discontented people?” she says.
Bent with old age, Sakhi recalls a child happy with her own company, sitting for hours on the bed, writing and painting. “This is her destiny and she needs to do what she needs to do,’’ she says.
The woman who has willingly taken on the burden of Manipur’s struggle agrees, but she also sees clearly the life that has slipped away from her. One of her strongest memories is of her father taking her to Varuni Hill near Imphal. “I don’t miss my family that much. But I do miss being able to walk up a hill or along a river bank. I miss the wide paddy fields of my land,’’ she says.
Her diet during the 16-year hunger strike
She is fed Cerelac, juices like Appy, Horlicks and protein shakes—1,600 calories a day.
“She refuses to drink water. So when we have to give her tablets or vitamins, they are crushed with her food,’’ says Dr Th Biren, head of the medicine department at JNIMS, and her attending doctor. A team of six doctors checks on Sharmila daily. “We weigh her periodically. Today she weighs 46 kg, the same as last month. It’s extraordinary what she is doing. Medically, you can be fed through the Ryles tube for months even, as we do with patients with strokes. But for 14 years, that’s unimaginable,’’ Dr Biren says.
National and international support
In 2006, Irom travelled to Delhi to pay tribute to her idol, Mahatma Gandhi. While in the capital, she staged a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar where she was joined by students and human rights activists. The event failed to garner media attention and just a few days later she was re-arrested on her return from Delhi for attempting suicide through her hunger strike.
[Irom was upset by this lack of national attention to her protest in Delhi, compared it with the rockstar-like attention that Anna Hazare got and felt that this was because she was not from mainland India.
[Not true. Mary Kom is from the same state as Irom and, unlike Irom, who grew up as a devout, ritual-observing Hindu, Mary is Christian and still rules the hearts of India because her work—which is to get international sporting medals for India—makes every Indian heart swell with nationalistic pride. Irom’s fast against AFSPA is, wrongly, seen as anti-national and, rightly, seen as anti-Army, an institution that all right-wing and moderate Indians, wrongly, revere uncritically. Hazare’s crusade is against corruption, which concerns every Indian. If Irom had become the leading voice on any pan-Indian issue she would have received a different response in Delhi.]
In 2011, Irom wrote a heartfelt letter to Anna Hazare, who had captured the nation’s attention in his fight against corruption. In her letter, she extended an invitation to the Gandhian to visit her in Imphal. Sharmila was successful in securing Anna’s support for her cause.
In October 2013, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered the state government to lift restrictions imposed on access to Sharmila.
She won the support of Nobel Laureate, Shirin Ebadi, who promised to take up Sharmila’s cause at the UN Human Right’s Council.
National and International Honours
Her historic protest has not only garnered international attention but has also won Sharmila many awards and honours. In 2012, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the North East Network. Sharmila is also the recipient of Gwangju Prize for Human Rights which includes a $125,000 prize money. She donated this money to the victims of human rights violation in Manipur. Additionally, Sharmila has also been honoured with the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize, Sarva Gunah Sampannah Award for Peace and Harmony and Adivasi Ratna Award. In 2010, Sharmila won a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission. She has refused to accept any award until her demand of repealing AFSPA is fulfilled, which she probably considers to be the best reward for her struggle.
In 2009 Deepti Priya Mehrotra presented a moving portrait of the Iron Lady in her book Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur. The book traces the journey of Sharmila with a detailed backdrop of the history of Manipur.
Irom’s 16-year fast, 2000-16
The mowing down by Assam Rifles troopers of 10 civilians, including a national child bravery award winner, on November 2, 2000 near a bus stand at Malom village in Imphal West shook the state and gave the then 28-year-old Sharmila cause to fight for lifting of an Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to carry out counter-insurgency operations.
Since then she was force-fed through her nose at the security ward of the state-run Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences close to her Kongpal Konkham Leikai residence in Imphal East.
The AFSPA was imposed in the militancy-ravaged Manipur in 1980, which is seen as the foundation for the large number of killings by armed forces and police and security agencies, often seen as extra-judicial killings of both rebels and innocents.
Even as Sharmila's hunger strike entered the fourth year, the killing of Thangjam Manorama Devi by Assam Rifles, as an alleged member of rebel group People Liberation Army of Manipur on July 11, 2004 reinforced "extra-judicial killings" in the state.
Five days later, 15 women vigil group leaders, denouncing the Rifles' excesses, disrobed at the gate of then 17 AR headquarters at the historic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal, stunning the whole world.
Bowing to the unrelenting movement, the Okram Ibobi Singh government had, in August 2004, lifted the Army Act from Imphal municipal areas spreading over seven assembly constituencies in Imphal West and Imphal East districts.
The same year, Assam Rifles vacated Kangla fort. Then PM Manmohan Singh had also said that AFSPA was draconian and needed to be replaced. Manipur had witnessed large-scale protests against the excesses of the rifles.
The Ten Highlights of Irom’s fast
09 Aug, 2016 The Times of India Irom Sharmila breaks 16-year fast against AFSPA: 10 things to know
Irom Sharmila, who had campaigned demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Forces Act (AFSPA) in Manipur, broke her 16-year fast on Tuesday 9 August 2016..
Here is a snapshot of Sharmila’s struggle: 1. Irom Chanu Sharmila broke down as she broke her fast in Imphal. She announced that she would go mainstream with her struggle against AFSPA, and contest the coming elections.
2. Sharmila repeatedly said she knew nothing about politics. But she appealed for 20 independent candidates to come forward and stand with her attempts to ‘topple CM Ibobi’ (reference to Manipur CM Okram Ibobi Singh).
3. Sharmila said her aim is to become the Chief Minister of Manipur and repeal the imposition of AFSPA in the state.
4. Sharmila began her fast on November 5, 2000. She also vowed not to look into a mirror or comb her hair till AFSPA was lifted in Manipur.
5. Her fast came after an event that is referred to as the ‘Malom Massacre’, in which 10 civilians were shot down by troops of the Assam Rifles. The firing by the security forces had come in the aftermath of an explosion that targeted troops. The civilians killed in the incident had been waiting in a bus stop, and had included a 60-year-old woman and 18-year-old Sinam Chandramani, a National Bravery Award winner.
6. Since then, Sharmila has been periodically released and re-arrested soon afterwards on the charge of attempting suicide.
7. Her periods of detention have also seen the use of medical methods to pump food and nutrition into her system to keep her alive.
8. Sharmila has met her mother only once since she began her fast, saying watching her mother’s anguish would break her resolve.
9. Sharmila’s act of defiance has seen her become an international icon.
10. Some of the awards and recognitions that she has received include the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (2007), Mayillama Award (2009), Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian Human Rights Commission (2010), Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (2010), Sarva Gunah Sampannah Award for Peace and Harmony from the Signature Training Centre (2010). In 2013, Amnesty International declared her a 'Prisoner of Conscience' and continues to refer to her this way.
2010: first contact
Somewhere around , through correspondence, Sharmila and a man named Desmond Coutinho felt a deep connection, and seem to have fallen in love with one another. Mr. Coutinho pledged his life, and all that he has to her help and cause. He is a social worker, of Indian origins, from UK and Africa. They have never had any sort of normal relationship, Sharmila is a State prisoner, they can at best meet in public courts. Sharmila announced to the world that he was her fiance: the boats began to rock.
Despite the fact that Irom Sharmila has independently taken on the awakening of the people in her prayerful Fast, and has done more than any man in Manipuri history for Peace, for Manipuri society, for which she was regaled as a Goddess, when it came to Coutinho, she is regarded as a woman, who is held subjected to all the culture bound conditioning that area holds. This includes, not being able or allowed to marry or associate with men whom the family disapproves of. Mr. Coutinho is one such association.
At what age can a woman be allowed to make her own choice? She's 42 now [in 2013].
Shockingly, just two days ago, on her way to the fortnightly hearing, Sharmila declared to the press and NDTV that those who claimed to be her staunch supporters were threatening to `honour kill' her if she persists in her relationship with Coutinho. Worse, her brother, Singhajit, told the press that:
"I am a trustee member of the Just Peace Foundation, but let me speak in my capacity as the brother of Sharmila and not as a member of the JPF.
"As a brother, I had told Sharmila that if her affair with Desmond Coutinho is going to influence her and constrain her to change her stand, then I would be ready to sacrifice my role as a father to my children and spend the rest of my days in jail".iv
What does this mean? Is it a threat to Coutinho's life if Sharmila changes her mind about continuing the Fast? Is it a threat to Sharmila's? What is the normal legal proceeding when someone threatens a life? She is gentle. Like Gandhi, doesn't press charges.
2011: Resorts to 2-day fast to meet her
Irom in Love
Sharmila has met more people in just a week after Hazare broke his 12-day fast on August 28  than she did in the last decade.
Confined to the isolated security ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, in custody of the Central Jail, Sajiwa, for almost 11 years, Sharmila is visibly annoyed, not because of the attention she is getting, but by the sudden interest in her personal life. "I said something in good faith as I rarely get to share my feelings and emotions, but the media seem to be more interested in my lover than the cause I'm fighting for," she told India Today.
When 48-year-old Desmond Coutinho read about her struggle in Burning Bright, a book by Deepti Priya Mehrotra, he wrote a letter to Sharmila in 2009. Since then, the two have been exchanging letters regularly. Cupid struck, and in Coutinho Sharmila found her soulmate. He came to Imphal for the first time in February this year and finally managed to meet her on March 9 at a court, just before she was released for a brief period. "Yes, he loves me a lot and cares for me," says Sharmila, blushing like a teenager.
The union, however, has not gone down well with her supporters. Coutinho had to fast for two days before the activists relented and allowed him to meet her. The problem started when Coutinho insisted on sitting by Sharmila at the meira shang (women's shelter) where the Meira Paibis (women activists) gathered following Sharmila's release from jail for two days. Agitated activists were on the verge of manhandling him before the police came to his rescue.
Sharmila's room is full of gifts from Coutinho-a wooden statue of Krishna and Radha, Santa Claus cap and bells, a calendar, a diary and a laptop. "My supporters did not like the way he dressed and behaved. I admit he is very possessive about me and gets aggressive with the local people. At the same time, my family and friends consider me public property. I don't like interference in my personal life. He is of Goan origin but a British citizen," she says. Coutinho, however, has posted on a website, "Goan origin she said, but I was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, as were my parents. I am a second generation African travelling with an EU passport." he posted.
"I have nothing to say if Sharmila wants to marry him. But she is blind in love. He is a good writer and could influence Sharmila's impressionable mind," says Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Watch, a long-time associate of Sharmila. "He seems mentally imbalanced. Initially he came to us saying that he wanted to build an ashram here. Soon, he started demanding money from us. He wanted to go to Kathmandu and asked us to book his tickets," says Loitongbam. Sharmila's brother Irom Singhajit was also annoyed by Coutinho's behaviour. "I met him for a minute at the Classic Hotel in Imphal and did not like his attitude," says Singhajit. "I don't mind her marrying him though," he clarifies.
Coutinho insists he is serious about Sharmila. "I am not a writer. I am not an activist. I care about her. And although this seems to annoy activists, I have done more for her with my caring than the moral support they claim to have offered her," he posted on the website.
Sharmila does want to go back to a normal life and get married once her goal is achieved. For now, the steely resolve hasn't flagged one bit. The Class XII dropout, who quit studies because she believed she did not know how to pass an examination, has put her entire life to test. "Could Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have afforded to ignore me for 10 years if I belonged to a state in mainland India?" she asks. Loitongbam says Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid has invited a four-member delegation to Delhi to discuss her demands. Is there hope around the corner?
In early 2011 Mr Coutinho ruffled more than a few feathers in Manipur through his comments.
Brajamohan wrote on Manipur Talks: “I got shocked to day to read a comment by one Desmond Coutinho in Kanglaonline. Let me take a screenshot for you guys…I don't know what's going on but the way he's been commenting in various forums is making him sound like a lunatic. But he could be true too? Who knows. Being a regular to e-pao and kanglaonline, i saw some of his comments. He even admitted few Manipuris regard him as some agent :p <> It [Mr Coutinho’s comment] reads:”
[Mr Coutinho’s comment in the screenshot begins] “I have three demands for these so called defenders of Irom Sharmila Chanu and I have two letters where she names me as her spokesman.
“First Babloo Loitongbam rescinds the death threats he has imposed upon her via his grip upon her brother on the grounds of honour killing.
“Second that he allows us the prison visits which she has requested as her right as an Indian citizen guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of India. On her request I will pursue action to ensure that the Longtoibam yuknam respects the constitution of the republic of India.
“Third that he stops referring to her as public property and begins if only for one manipuri woman to respect her rights as a human being.
“Those of you familiar with newspeak and the book 1984 all of you, my my what an educated bunch you are, will know that Babloo will happily attend self invited as chief guest at our eventual Heijinpot [pre-marriage function] once AF(SP)A is repealed and I am offering him another opportunity to arrange an accident for the one man who stands up to him during our prison visits. First will Kangla publish this or are you too scared also of the nephew of the DG of Imphal Police. It's not like I am asking him for a price check on becoming a commando. I am not trying to embarrass the gangster I just want the right to run the gauntlet of his thugs while trying to visit her at her request. I shall return with the backing of the High Court/Supreme Court. These next four weeks I have other matters to attend to with someone also who is become so small less than a worm whom the world ignores.” [Mr Coutinho’s comment ends]
Manipuri readers’ reactions were measured and reasoned. (What an educated bunch [they, indeed,] are, with a classical tradition going back centuries.):
Oja Luwang wrote: “whew.... That's one serious accusation. I hope he's evidence to prove his allegations.”
Most readers agreed with Oja Luwang when he said, “Whatever his personal cases may be this kind of instance is making the cause of Sharmila very weak. If it was a romantic story penned by Shakepeare or ahemmmm... me, the hero would leave his lover alone till she reach her goal first... without creating a scene. Once she achieves her goal, they can do whatever they like. Just imagine how would she feel when she hear stuffs like this. But again she is an Iron Lady. I bet this trivial claims and counter claims aren't gonna affect her struggle.”
In his further comments one Desmodn [sic] Coutinho endeared himself to no one by expressing his dismay at the sad state of affairs in the ‘disgusting shit hole’ called Manipur, poor supply of electricity, bad 3 star hotel and its poor breakfast (“The Hotel the best in Manipur is 3 star. I had started thinking it's like Fawlty Towers but in an endearing way. I no longer believe the slowness in organizing the buffet breakfast is due to the graceful movements of the staff. I think they are trying to make the food last because of the embargo there isn't enough.” (The Indpaedia volunteer, a Mayang, who wrote this piece loved dinners at the same hotel.)
Elektro Khadang echoed the general sentiment about Mr Desmodn Coutinho, “If he can't tolerate all these petty and trivial stuffs in life how can he find love in Sharmila who's left all these worldly pleasures for a cause.”
Desmodn Coutinho wrote in Apr 23, 2014, “ I tried to persuade Sharmila to stand for elections but she has her own mind. And no real supporters in Manipur.
“The death threats sponsored by Mr Babloo Loitongbam and his asssociates are now public knowledge. … All the money awards have disappeared without any accounts. But that's usual for Manipur NGOs. They were run by the police anyway… Auditing accounts may cause some families some trouble.
“Unlike you I return to Manipur once a year. The first time yes I received very aggressive treatment. But your mafia are weak cowards. That's why it's so easy to bully and cajole people like you. Second time they concentrated mainly on anyone who gave me shelter. 5 hotels in a week. Yes they do still threaten to gangrape Manipuris in Imphal…Bubbles prevented my supporting Sharmila at her Lamphel Court hearing by sending his pre-paid Meira Paibees. These would be the ones who claimed they had met with Ibobi Singh and his Nephew is a really nice chap and has nothing to do with all the drugs found in his possession. As Ibobi Singh once said himself at a press conference next to his tame DG Manipur P0lice. If you have evidence stand up now and say so publicly. And guess what nobody did…
“For now none of you will support Sharmila. At her annual release. There was one mayang reporter who took some photos. He said 8 paibees and 4 men. And an hour after her arrest the tent with the serial support fast was empty again. It will remain empty till next year or until a foreign reporter makes an appointment with any of Bubbles' associates.
“But Manipur is such a disgusting shit hole anybody who just gets a road built will stimulate the economy. … If you idiots shoot one official or jawan they will take out your family and you village…
“Don't cry children your families if they are wise have enough stashed in swiss bank accounts for you to be you for some years longer. At some point you'll wonder what this life was all about but not till the last hour my guess…
“Manipuris or Nagas or Paite Kuki or whatever you want to call yourselves don't care about nationalism the Siroy Lily or Sangai Deer. You have never cared about Irom Sharmila…
“Respond if you want or don't. You are irrelevant. I've come across psychophantic manipuris and wannabe tough guys who need to check me out. None has any stamina for truth save Sharmila. And she remains on her own…”
Once again the gentle Manipuri readers’ reaction was analytical and balanced rather that angry. ‘Self Deleted User’ asked Mr Coutinho what the other Manipuri readers wanted to, “What reasons are you going to give for the flagrant misanthropic tone in your post? … You managed to offend with your language. There is superiority complex in it. How can you call the entire community as fools? How can you generalise your opinion based on your limited time in the state? …”
Dec 2014: Coutinho arrested for obstructing public servants
On 25 Dec 2014 police arrested Desmond Coutinho. The police said Coutinho, who had been camping in Imphal for the past few days to meet Sharmila, arrived at 5.30 that morning at the special ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, where the hunger striker is lodged. When he found the collapsible gate of the ward closed, Coutinho rocked the gate in his attempt to enter the ward forcibly. When officials of the hospital asked him to behave, he shouted at them using “abusive” language
Coutinho was booked under Sections 186, 290 and 291 IPC relating to obstructing public servants from discharging duties and creating public nuisance. The offence is bailable.
Accusing Coutinho of being a government “spy” out “to lure Sharmila out of her struggle and to sabotage the people’s campaign” for repealing the army act, Sharmila’s supporters roughed up him during her court appearance on Monday, the police said.
Sharmila Kanba Lup, a conglomerate of citizens’ organisations supporting Sharmila’s struggle, lodged a complaint at Porompat police station today against Coutinho’s behaviour in the hospital. They wanted him to be deported.
A large number of Sharmila’s supporters, mostly women, came to the police picket where Countinho was being detained before being arrested and demanded that he should not be allowed to meet Sharmila. “No one knows who Desmond is. He is only trying to misguide and lure Sharmila out of her struggle. He should be deported immediately,” S. Momon, co-convener of the Lup, said.
Irom condemns her supporters for attacking Coutinho
Irom Sharmila condemned the attack on Desmond Coutinho, by women activists in Imphal on December 22.
The women assaulted Coutinho, a British national of Indian origin, on the premises of a court accusing him of diverting Sharmila's campaign against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Condemning the attack on her friend, Sharmila said, "Coutinho has been supporting my struggle for the last few years. He had come to meet me in court on the fateful day (December 22 when he was beaten up) to express his solidarity with my campaign."
Sharmila's brother, Irom Singhajit, said Coutinho had made a mockery out of Sharmila's struggle.
He added that there is a strong suspicion that the government might be using Coutinho to destabilize Sharmila's campaign.
[In 2011], some women had chased away Coutinho when he tried to meet Sharmila at a makeshift camp near her house in Imphal East. Since then, the two have been exchanging letters and gifts, sources said.
2017: A marriage is announced
IMPHAL: Rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu will marry her long-time British partner Desmond Coutinho.
When asked about her life after marriage, Sharmila said the couple plans on settling down in Tamil Nadu. Being a British citizen, Desmond will obtain a visa to stay with her in India, Sharmila said, adding that Desmond is already here for the marriage.
"Though Desmond's family originated from Goa, he was born in Tanzania before they became British citizens," said Sharmila. "I have not yet informed my family, particularly my mother, of my plan to marry. But I'll do so soon. I'll also invite some of my friends and well-wishers," she added.
The marriage was devoid of any fanfare as no invitation card was issued to anyone
Even the family members of both the bride and the bridegroom did not attend the wedding
Irom Sharmila with Desmond CoutinhoIrom Sharmila ties the knot with Desmond Coutinho in Kodaikanal
IMPHAL: Rights crusader Irom Sharmila Chanu tied the knot with her British boyfriend Desmond Coutinho on Thursday morning at the sub-registrar's office in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, where she is currently residing.
After waiting for nearly two months to complete the legal formalities, the two obtained their marriage papers under the 'Special Marriage Act 1954' from the office on Thursday morning. Their marriage was devoid of any fanfare as no invitation card was issued to anyone. Even the family members of both the bride and the bridegroom did not attend the wedding.
Before going to sub-registrar's office on Thursday morning, Sharmila told TOI on the phone on Wednesday: "I'll call up by weak mother to seek her blessing for my marriage. We have not handed out any invitation cards for our marriage and none of our family members and relatives will come. Nevertheless, a documentarian from Kakching district will, however, attend it as part of his filming task."
"We are likely to get our marriage certificate from the sub-registrar's office at 10.30 am on Thursday. A ceremonial function will be held at a local church soon. Some Kodaikanal locals have conveyed their wishes and presented gifts to us," she had said on Wednesday. Asked about her plans after marriage, Sharmila said she will settle in Kodaikanal and embark on her new mission against AFSPA for bringing about peace and justice in the country.
She added that she will attend the South Asian Youth Summit, 2017 in Bhubaneswar next month. "I will give a 5-minute power-point presentation on AFSPA and the key issues gripping Manipur in the summit," she said. "We are happy to know that she is getting married. I extend my best wishes to her," said Mayengbam James, secretary of People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA). Sharmila had floated PRJA and contested against former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh from Thoubal constituency under its banner in the assembly elections. However, she got only 90 votes. After her poll debacle, Sharmila made up her mind to quit politics and went to Kodaikanal.
2017, July: ‘Doesn't want to return to Manipur after marriage’
A day after Irom Sharmila filed an application to tie the knot with her Brit ish partner Desmond Cou tinho at the sub registrar's of fice in Kodaikanal, the rights crusader on Thursday said she doesn't want to return to her home state, Manipur, ever again. Speaking to TOI on the phone, Sharmila said, “I fought against the oppressive Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) for 16 long years but people rejected me in the polls. That's why I don't want to go back to Manipur again. It's a personal decision which I took after my defeat in the assembly election.“
On August 9 last year, Sharmila ended her epic 16-year-long fast with a dash of honey and announced that she would contest polls with the sole objective of repealing AFSPA. However, all three candidates of People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), including her, had to bite the dust in the polls held in March this year. A few days after the election results were declared, Sharmila went to Perumalmalai in Kodaikanal to get `mental relief '. She is staying there since then.
“I'm totally fed up with politics. Nevertheless, I'll continue to fight against AFSPA in some other forum. Now, I've joined the Green Alliance, a social body that has diverse objectives. Through it, we will chalk out plans to campaign for scrapping the oppressive military Act,“ said Sharmila.
Asked about her upcoming marriage, Sharmila added that the sub-registrar will issue the marriage certificate probably in the middle or third week of August. She added that the marriage will be solemnized at a local church in Perumalamalai.
“There is no plan to invite our family members, relatives and friends for the ceremony .Some local well-wishers are likely to attend the function,“ said the rights crusader. She added that she had called up her mother and one of her brothers before filing her marriage application. On Wednesday , Sharmila, after filing her application in Kodaikanal, had said, “I want to lead the life of a normal woman.“ On her plans post marriage, Sharmila said she will participate in the international youth conference to be held in Odisha from September 17 to 20.
2016 in Irom's life
Supreme Court's vindication
SC: Is AFSPA in Manipur eternal?
January: Irom Sharmila received the highest vindication possible for an Indian. The Supreme Court of India questioned the prolongation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. (For details, click the link.)
Attempt to suicide cases
The Times of India, Mar 02, 2016
Court again drops case for bid to kill self against Irom
Human rights crusader Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been fast ng for over 15 years demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Po wers) Act in Manipur, was on Monday released by an mphal court which acquit ed her of charges levelled against her under Section 309 IPC (attempt to suicide). Sharmila was last arrested on January 23, 2015. For he last 15 years, police have been arresting her every year, charging her with the same crime -attempt to suicide -every time. Interestingly , for the last few years, courts have been acqu tting her every year.
Straight after her release from the security ward of he JNIMS hospital, where she was force-fed through her nose, the `Iron Lady of Manipur' went and camped at the historic Saheed Minar in Imphal and resumed her stir. She declined health examination by a team of government doctors which visited her at Saheed Minar.
Titular king of Manipur Leishemba Sanajaoba met her and discussed the prevailing situation in the state. Sharmila told him her campaign is not for personal gain but for the people suppressed by the AFSPA.
2016: Policeman confesses
January 2016, Manipur police head constable Herojit Singh, one of the suspended commandos, confessed to killing Sanjit (22) in a fake encounter on the orders of Ak Jhalajit Singh, then additional SP of Imphal West and current the SP there. He also disclosed that CM Ibobi Singh and then DGP Y Joykumar Singh were in the know about the killing.
Manipuri rights activist Irom Sharmila was just 28 years when she vowed not to eat, drink, comb her hair or look in a mirror till the govt repealed the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). 16 years later, in 2016, she decided to change tack and contest elections instead. A glimpse at how her struggle panned out is ontained in the graphic on this page.
2016: Fast ends
The sudden decision of civil rights activist Irom Sharmila+ to end her 16-year-old hunger strike against AFSPA next month has taken everyone by surprise including her associates and family members.
• Irom's elder brother Singhajit, who has been with her throughout her struggle said he never knew she was going to terminate her fast • • Sharmila's long-time associate Babloo Loitongbam, Director of NGO Human Rights Alert Manipur, said he too was taken by surprisebut can understand the reason behind her decision. "If AFSPA+ has not been repealed in 15 years of her fast then it won't happen in another 30 years also," he said while admitting that he too was not kept informed about her decision.
In 2000, when the activist embarked on her hunger strike, she also had taken a vow to neither enter her house nor meet her mother till the government repealed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Since then, she has met her mother Sakhi Devi only once when she was also admitted to the same hospital in 2009.
Her brother recalled that during the early years of her fast he regularly tried to convince her to end it.
"But she never listened to me. Finally I gave up and promised that I will be with her throughout her struggle. She used to say that she will break her fast only when they remove AFSPA. That was her promise," Singhajit said.
During the fast: How Irom survived
• Strong will power and daily habit of practising yoga helped her: Sharmila's brother
• She learnt yoga in 1998, two years before she sat on the hunger strike
• Sharmila was forcibly nose-fed for 16 years
The secret of Manipur's 'Iron Lady'+ Irom Sharmila's fairly good health even after undertaking a hunger strike for 16 years+ , during which she was forcibly nose-fed, lay in her will power and the habit of practising yoga daily.
According to her associates and family members, she learnt yoga in 1998, two years before she sat on the hunger strike which ended on Tuesday.
"It is her strong will power and daily habit of practising yoga which kept her physically fit," Sharmila's brother Irom Singhajit told PTI.
As a young woman in the nineties Sharmila was fascinated by the subject of nature cure and took up a course which also included yoga as a means of natural well-being.
"Yoga is not like football. It is different. If a person does yoga, it can help one to live longer. By doing yoga, one can live upto one hundred years! It is not so with other sports like football," Sharmila had told her biographer Deepti Priya Mehrotra in the book 'Burning Bright'.
She recalled that she began doing the Yoga asanas in 1998-99 and since then she has been doing it everyday.
Describing Sharmila as someone exceptionally close to nature, the book says she used to experiment continually with her body through Yoga and walking.
Under police detention since indefinite hunger strike is viewed as an attempt to commit suicide, which is a punishable offence, Sharmila has spent almost all of the last 16 years at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital here.
Through a Ryles tube which reaches the stomach through nose, she was forcibly nose-fed a liquid diet made from boiled rice, dal and vegetables.
As an undertrial prisoner she rarely had visitors and led a solitary life during her fasting period.
After the fast
Certain sections expected Irom to fast forever
When Irom Sharmila called off her fast in July 2016 widespread dismay was expressed by certain sections of society. Here is a sample of the reactions: ‘Sharmila's decision shocks many’ The Sangai Express, ‘Irom Sharmila’s decision shocks many Manipur News…Only the Government of Manipur welcomed it. Going through a 2013 article by Aunty Kamala it becomes clear that once Irom’s fast became iconic, many sections in Manipur wanted her, expected her to fast forever.
Aunty Kamala wrote in 2013:
Sharmila is literally a prisoner of two jails: the state which has unjustly criminalized her for standing up against violence perpetrated in its name, and the prison of social concepts and norms of what is appropriate or not, in the minds of supporters around her, who have deified her, against her will.
Deification of people who use pure and noble means, is a natural tendency in the human breast. There is a universal inner recognition that the truth such people adhere to, is eternal, alone is real, and if need be, worth dying for.
As an independent human being, Sharmila undertook her Fast, in obedience to her conscience. As the days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and now almost 1.5 decades, her personal reason – obedience to the truth within her – has been ursurped by family, supporters, and society, to the point where, she is ' expected to continue the Fast, no matter what..
Recently [in 2013], her brother, Singhajit, seemed to reaffirm his belief that Sharmila's decision to Fast, is no longer hers, but that she is now a symbol of the finest aspirations of the people, which she must serve, saying to her:
“The sanctity of the cause that you have taken up, the honour of the land and the prestige of the people are far superior to the interest of the family."
What is amazing, is that when Sharmila undertook her Fast initially, which was to her DEATH, there was no uproar from society. Her effort was seen to be serving the ideals they all cherished. The message from her supporters seems to be, `We will hold you as a Goddess, whether or not you like it, but, if you step down from the pedestal we insist you stand on, we will kill you.'
The Rebelling Reluctant Goddess, is now becoming increasingly dismissed by her own supporters, publicly, in the press: It is alarming to note the new tones coming from the JPF- the Just Peace Foundation's statements about Irom Sharmila. In an interview,
``Sharmila also claimed her protest has been hijacked by the very people in-charge of her campaign [the JPF]. The activist says she is not even allowed to donate money from her international prizes to causes like the Uttarakhand flash-floods tragedy.
In its defence, the organisation [JPF] says the primary problem is their communication gap, given the restrictions on meeting Irom Sharmila, who is under judicial custody in Manipur. Babloo Loitongbam of the Just Peace Foundation said, “Sometimes there is a tendancy to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
What does this mean? Whose tendency? Where? Sharmila's? So, the activist that got all the money for the JPF, which doesn't listen to her about how to use that money; the activist who is insistent on stepping off the Goddess platform in her dedication to truth, and dared to fall in love with a foreigner, is now a hysterical, weak little woman, making mountains out of molehills?
``On Sharmila likening some of the people as the Taliban, Singhajit said it could be due to poor vocabulary on her part. "It was a family issue and blaming CSOs would be out of place and inappropriate," he added.vi
No one questioned her maturity when she entered the Fast. But now [in 2013], as the Goddess insistently steps down from the pedestal, her perception of reality is alluded to.
What Aunty Kamala [who lives in Sweden] said in 2013 became even more relevant in 2016 when Iron actually ended her fast.
Nobody is sure what prompted her to take the decision. Her associates say her British boyfriend may have played a crucial role in ensuring that she breaks her fast.
Decision proves very unpopular
K Sarojkumar Sharma The Times of India Aug 12 2016Sharmila a lonely figure in Manipur today
Often regarded a human rights icon, Irom Sharmila is now [within two days] a lonely figure in her home state. Her decision to end her hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and contest polls hasn't gone down well with the people of Manipur.
Many women even objected to her stay in their localities, forcing Sharmila to return to the security ward of JNIMS Hospital where she was force-fed during her agitation days. But some political and social bodies have endorsed her strategy.
Social ana lysts say many are an gry over her decision to marry Desmond Coutinho, an India born British national whom many have accused of being an agent to destabilize her struggle. As people have already seen the politicians' failure to scrap AFSPA, Sharmila's plan to contest polls hasn't convinced them.
“Her decisions have washed away our trust. She has broken her promise to fast till AFSPA is repealed,“ said Ratan Saikhom, an Imphal resident. Imphal-based Human Rights Alert, which has been supporting her, said it is currently concentrating on Sharmila's health and social reintegration. Sharmila Kanba Lup , which has been supporting her campaign since 2008, disbanded the body, two days after she gave up her fast.
Mother and child reunion
Civil rights activist Irom Sharmila, who recently ended her fast-unto-death, got a pleasant in August when her mother, Sakhi, came to meet her after 16 years.
There were reports that her elder brother Singhajit had come as well, but Sharmila denied this. When Sharmila started her indefinite hunger strike against AFSPA on November 4, 2000, her mother had blessed her and said she should return home only after accomplishing her mission.
A career in politics
Elections, maybe marriage
• Sharmila said she would only get married if people reject as a politician
• She will contest 2016's Manipur assembly elections
• She is looking for "20 like-minded Independent candidates" to join her
Irom Sharmila, on ending her 16-year-long hunger strike+ against AFSPA, said she would only get married if people reject her fresh innings as a politician. Her exact words were, "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," a teary-eyed Sharmila. Sharmila, who was living at JNIMS Hospital here, had Horlicks and chabon, a soup extracted from cooked rice.
Sharmila reiterated she would contest the 2017 polls from Thoubal, the constituency of CM Okram Ibobi Singh of Congress, and said she was looking for "20 like-minded Independent candidates" to join her.
Meanwhile, 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.
People's Resurgence Justice Alliance
Irom Sharmila on 17 Oct 2016 announced the name of her political party as People's Resurgence Justice Alliance. (Irom Sharmila's new party: People's Resurgence Justice Alliance, TNN & Agencies | Oct 18, 2016)
She contested state elections and took on former chief minister and Congress heavyweight Okram Ibobi Singh from Thoubal, but managed to win only 90 votes+ . After the debacle, she took some time off and had been living in southern Indian states.
"I will continue my struggle, not as a politician but as a civil activist. I have already decided not to contest polls in the future. After my marriage, I'll lobby international bodies to urge India to scrap the draconian law," she said, adding that she will continue to lend support to PRJA and make it strong enough to act as a force to "bring about true democracy in Manipur". (Irom Sharmila to marry her British partner in Tamil Nadu in July May 8, 2017 | The Times of India)
The Poet and Her Muse
Apart from her commendable commitment for championing social causes, Sharmila is also a talented poet. She has written over 100 poems in Bengali. [Indpaedia understands that Irom wrote in Meiteilon language, in the Bengali script.] Few of her works such as Birth and Fragrance of Peace have been translated to English. Birth is an ambitious poem of 1000 lines which captures a gamut of life experiences including her childhood, her views about society and her take on things she has witnessed and experienced. Sharmila completed this poem within a span of six weeks.
Loneliness and memories is Sharmila’s muse and death is a recurring theme in her poetry, much in contrast to her personal love of life. Sharmila is like a child in many ways and that is reflected in her writings too. Through her writings, Sharmila has showed the world that although she may be physically restrained and held captive in solitary confinement, her imagination cannot be shackled.
A 1000-word "very long" poem, penned by Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for the past 12 years to protest against what she calls repressive laws allowing widespread human rights abuses, forms part of a new book on the activist from Manipur.
Titled "Birth" the poem concludes "Iron Irom Two Journeys - Where the Abnormal is Normal," a book written by author and documentary filmmaker Minnie Vaid and published by Rajpal and Sons.
"I will write a poem, a very long poem. it will be a poem of one thousand lines. I will write about society. I will write about my experiences since my childhood. I will write about what I have seen," Sharmila told Deepti Mehrotra while she was in Delhi and in solitary confinement after being arrested for a fast unto death in the year 2006.
Six weeks after returning from Delhi, Sharmila was ready with the poem "Birth" written in "neat lettering in the Bengali script that she had learnt in school."
"Lonely as she may be in her confinement the poet in her cannot be kept restrained. She has written a long poem - a narrative poem giving an account of her visions," says Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, who has translated the poem into English.
"Her lines don't reflect remotely the reason of her fast. She has painstakingly painted a picture of an ideal world where men can live as friends.
"Characters of different personalities as she sees in the preset day society are sketched with meticulous care. If being poor is a crime then one, who fights for human justice and justice is a criminal... She has done a comparative study of two persons, one an indolent and the other a hardworking one," writes Singh.
Meanwhile, author Minnie writes, "The one towering influence in her life, one that remained an inspiration through all her actions, was an illiterate woman with extraordinary willpower- Sharmila's dadi (paternal grandmother)."
"Today if I am inspired my our dadi, a woman of great resolve, active in social movements including the Nupi Lal, the Manipuri woman's war in 1939," Singhajit, the brother of Sharmila is quoted as saying.
Free my feet
Poem of Irom Chanu Sharmila Translated from Manipuri by Wide Angle Social Development Organisation, South Asian Peoples' Forum
By Irom Chanu Sharmila :-
Free my feet from the shackles
Like bangles made of thorn
Confined inside a narrow room
My fault lies in
Being incarnated as a bird.
Inside the dark room of the prison
Many voices echo around
Unlike the sound of birds
Not the merry laughter
Not that of a lullaby
A child snatched away from the mother's bosom
The lamentation of a mother
A woman separated from her husband
The cry of anguish of a widow
A cry springing out of a sepoy's hand
A ball of fire is seen
Dooms day follows it
The ball of fire was lit
By the product of science
Because of oral experimentation
Servants of sense organs
Everybody is in trance
Intoxication – the enemy of thinking
Wisdom of thinking is annihilated
No experimentation of thinking
Laughing with smiles on the face
By the traveller of coming beyond the hill ranges
Nothing remains but my laments
Nothing saved by the seeing eyes
Strength cannot show itself
Human life is precious
Before life comes to an end
Let me be light of darkness
Nectar will be sown
A true of immortality will be planted.
Putting on artificial wings
All the corners of the earth will be covered
Near the joining line of life and death
Morning songs will be sung
The chores of the world will be performed.
Let the gate of the prison be flung wide
I will not go on another path
Please remove the shackles of thorn
Let me be not accused
For being incarnated in the life of a bird.
Ms.Sharmila is a 2007 Gwangju Human Rights co-awardee along with Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi
Anish Krishnan Nayar on Irom’s poems
Anish Krishnan Nayar : Poems of Irom Sharmila Muse India
Select Poems of Irom Sarmila: An Existential Critique
Irom Chanu Sarmila (1972- ) … is a poet too. Fragrance of Peace (2010) contains twelve of her poems. The poems were originally written in her native language Meiteilon before Sarmila started her phenomenal hunger strike. These poems were translated into English by a few translators including Longiam Jayachandra and Waikhom Romesh. The poems of Sarmila consist of a unique blend of passion, protest and hope. In spite of the simple structure, the poems of Sarmila bring in the pangs and problems of her homeland. The objective of this paper is to highlight the existential concerns of Irom Sarmila through her poems. The paper seeks to establish that the poems of Sarmila have elements of existentialism.
In her poem “love” (The titles are not capitalized in the text) Sarmila says that she is unable to bear any more love as she had to accept a lot from the public. She says: “my frail vessel is full to brim” (Sarmila 2010: 6) .She means that bodily love has become unbearable to her as she is overwhelmed with the brotherly love for her people. She understands that she can be the chooser. She can either make a personal preference or live happily forever, or make a sacrifice for the people. She has chosen the latter. There is often the temptation to lead a ‘normal’ life. But she is determined to overcome those temptations. She accepts her fate and thinks that God has put her on such problems to test her determination. Sarmila says: “my life has been put as fire /to test me if I’m strong or weak” (Sarmila 2010: 13-14). In her poem “a fortunate woman” which seems to be a sequel to “love”. Sarmila laments on a rendezvous with her love. She is moved during the meeting. But she controls herself by saying “perhaps, I belong today / to another” (Sarmila 2010: 9-10). ‘Another’ is obviously the political struggle.
Sarmila’s “like a child” is a prayer for the life she longs for. She does not dream of power, glory and political achievement. In contrast she says:
Without malice to anybody
Without hurting anyone
With tongues held right
Let me live
Like a child
A three-month old (Sarmila 2010: 1-6)
It is interesting and encouraging to know that in spite of intense political activity, Sarmila prefers an innocent inconsequent existence. She wants to live “like an ambitionless insect” (Sarmila 2010: 19). These lines make it clear that Sarmila has been a victim of compelling situations. She chose a public life only because she could not bear the cruelties carried out against her brethren.
In the eponymous poem, “fragrance of peace” she explains her mission. She says that when she dies, her body should not be cremated. She hates the idea of trees being chopped and ground being dug to put her to rest. She is against the idea of disturbing ecology for her sake. It she says that it would be better if her body is ditched and allowed to rot. She says:
let it rot under the ground
Let it be of some use to future generation
Let it transform into the ore in the mines
I’ll spread the fragrance of peace (9-13)
Even in her death she wants to be of some use to the people and contribute towards the peace of the nation.
Apart from exhilarating her mind, Irom Sarmila’s poems also revolt against exploitation of the oppressed. A few of her poems are testaments against abuse of authority. One such poem is “that cane of the policeman!” The poem describes a day when an innocent rickshaw man was ruthlessly assaulted by the policeman. The victim and the onlookers are muted by the authority. She says: “I came back with a heavy heart that days whose creation could have made it possible/ the policeman’s cane I saw that day” (Sarmila 2010: 31-32).
In her poem “be brave, sister”, she exhorts the oppressed to fight against injustice. This poem which has tones of existentialism makes it quite clear that fate has now role to play in human existence. Irom Sarmila says: Why blame fate endlessly / prove your strength, sister” (Sarmila 2010: 7-8). She is against the hegemonial attitude of the oppressed people. Due to this reason she is against the biblical adage, ‘meek shall inherit the world’. She says:
Stop hitching rides in their vehicles
To bare more of meekness
Can only invite disrespect (Sarmila 2010: 10-12)
---She advocates resistance against submission and meekness.
In “Victorious worm”, she pours out her anger and indignation against power and hypocrisy. At times people become highly influenced power that they consider themselves to be almighty god. With this attitude they meddle with the life of ‘ordinary people’. These people do irrevocable damage to the life of a common man / woman. Sarmila says:
Man of integrity
Is revered as god himself
A dirty worm like me
Detests them as enemies (Sarmila 2010: 7-10)
Yet another important theme in the poems of Irom Sarmila is subversion of birth rights. Often people who have power subvert the lives of others to suit their needs. Look at the following lines from “the fish were fighting in the aquarium”
In the water inside man made aquarium
Fishes, the lord’s creation
Unable to taste life in the sea (Sarmila 2010: 1-3)
In the above-mentioned lines she illustrates the fate of human beings by bringing in the analogy of fish in cage. God has created the fish and provided it with vast oceans to live. However, human beings create an artificial atmosphere, and force the fish to live within them. This act is done for the sole purpose of human entertainment. Similarly, oppressed people are deprived of their birth rights for the profitable endeavors of oppressors. This deprivation can be physical or psychological.
The poems of Irom Sarmila can be better understood if they are read with an existential point of view…
When one tries to define Sarmila as an existentialist, one should account for the repeated positive references to God in her poems. This is essential as the literati are mostly under the misconception that existentialism advocates atheism… Sarmila is a theistic existentialist. The reading of her poems can be equated to a journey into existentialist mind. It is said that an existentialist cannot escape agony, anguish, alienation and dread in his or her life. These words, as emotions, have specific meaning in existential philosophy. These emotions accompany the freedom to choose. Wesley Barnes defines these terms. Agony is the result of the revelation that a person’s choice is going to affect others too. Anguish accompanies the process of decision making. Once the choice is made the existentialist is alienated from others. He or she ends up living in dread of the choice that he or she has made. The above discussed poems contain these emotions in myriad forms. They vary from a desire to love and to be loved to indignation against injustice. The weight of the responsibility and choice hangs in the poem “love”. The lines, “perhaps, I belong today / to another” (Sarmila 2010: 9-10) shows the degree of alienation. Sarmila wants to live a simple contended anonymous life in a far corner. Instead, she is in the midst of a political struggle. She could have led a life of her dream by the exercise of a single choice. In spite of this she resists authority as she knows that her decision affects millions of people. This act proclaims that Irom Sarmila is a committed existentialist.
Sarmila,Irom. 2010, Fragnance of Peace, New Delhi: Zubaan.