By Vishnu Pillai:
We failed her. As a country, we failed her. I am talking about Irom Chanu Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur, the poster lady of peace. I write this utterly disappointed because I never thought in my worst nightmares that a person could fail even after 16 years of stubbornly pursuing her objective.
Her objective wasn’t insane, her objective wasn’t one of hatred. Her message wasn’t anti-national or anti-social. Her method wasn’t that of violence and death. It was one of peace. It was one that the father of the nation showed us while he himself used it to give us freedom. Yet she failed. More correctly, we failed her.
Almost 16 years ago, after the Malom massacre (where ten civilians were shot), Irom Sharmila decided enough is enough and she started her fast to repeal AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which grants security forces the right to search properties without warrant, to arrest people, use deadly force if there is ‘reasonable’ suspicion that a person is acting against the state.
In the 16 years since, other than the fact that she hasn’t eaten, she has been arrested on numerous occasions on the charge of attempt to commit suicide. She has not met her mother even once. The countless appeals she has made to social activists, politicians and prime ministers seem to have all gone waste.
Why am I going into history? Well, the biggest reason we, the normal citizens of this country, failed her was because we forgot about this lady. We forgot the sacrifice she was making for her people, for the right thing. We ignored her, we just let her be and refused to turn our attention to her. Now, when she ends her fast, let’s put our heads down in shame because all we had to do was support her, be her voice. But we didn’t, we failed her.
The national media ignored her. Like an anniversary celebration, they used to show her fast, year after year, one, two, three up to fifteen. Then forget it. They never pushed for what she wanted – to repeal AFSPA. The made the story about the fast, never why she was fasting. They decided to highlight the messenger instead of her message. Maybe that gave them more TRPs.
Even after repeated appeals to ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the current Prime Minister Modi, to re-appeal AFSPA, after support shown by celebrities, social activists like Anna Hazare, after the numerous humanitarian awards she received, after the numerous books, films, plays, poems and songs on her struggle, she now ends her 16-year hope – the hope that something would happen. She ends knowing nothing did actually happen on repealing AFSPA.
I can’t end this article without saluting this superhuman of a person. A person who sacrificed 16 years of her life (16 years of her youth) for her land and people. I salute her perseverance, selflessness, her stubbornness and her David vs. Goliath struggle against power, and the abuse of it.
More than anything, I salute the Iron Lady of Manipur for her undying, unflinching optimism. While she ends her fast she has decided to contest elections. Even after giving almost 16 years of her life, even after the fact that we failed her, she is not willing to lose hope in us yet. She still believes in us. She believes that one day the draconian law will be repealed.
So, come election day, and if she contests elections, make sure we don’t fail her again. Make sure her 16 years of struggle do not go in vain. Make sure you help the poster lady of peace, to bring peace. That much we owe her!
Featured image credit: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.