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Sharmila, Sabotage and Us

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(By : JN Lai)
I wish it would be wise to retain passive voice of my participation and experience in the course of Save Sharmila and demilitarization campaign in Manipur. Yet I feel like letting out some as relevant lines are in the limelight now.
First, many of us are shocked and stunned to hear Sharmila’s words especially her decision to contest election. I underwent one such shock long back in a similar nature though was not from her own lips but from two respected guys whom I associated with. That was somewhere in the February 2007 just before she returned from Delhi.
Irom Chanu Sharmila began her hunger strike in the early November 2000. After two or three years, the voice of that girl was getting belittled at a level that looked none paid heed to her. I felt strongly about that silence and took the concern to keep raising her voice. In 2003 I got a small team and raised a little fund too.  For the first time in Sharmila’s 16 year history we produced multi colored pamphlet entitled “Save Her” and distributed in World Social Forum held in Bombay, January 2004.  She was introduced to the world, handed out over thousand copies. Though not sure of a good impression created on the receivers at the occasion, at least I got impression and scar around my shoulder left by injury from hanging a bag carrying the pamphlets. Same year, the first website on “Save Her” was also launched.
As some of individuals in Apunba Lup saw me as an active concern on Sharmila, one evening a youth who was very dynamic activist of those days talked with me about taking Sharmila to Delhi. On 3 October 2006, the time court released Sharmila, the youth veered away her to a hospital and let her stay the night there.  In the same evening somewhere at Keishampat three or four of us finalized the plan to help Irom Chanu in continuing her hunger strike at the capital of the world biggest democracy. Amidst our thousand feelings of uncertainties and suspense, we made mission accomplished; she was flown to New Delhi all the way from Imphal airport. Thanked to the union cabinet minister who was reaching Imphal airport as if to distract security eyes from Sharmila to his VIP attention.
Sharmila was carrying on her hunger strike in Delhi for five months. Sometimes I coordinated Apunba Lup and her protest in Delhi. Then somewhere in mid February, one of well known activist of Manipur whom I closely associated expressed his intention of Sharmila’s return to Imphal. I did not response affirmatively for many of us considered Delhi was strategically a better location to make her voice heard to the larger audience. For sure, Sharmila’s presence in New Delhi got on the nerves of the then Congress government and the defense; they were stung in some ways. The government hated her presence in the capital, they might have tried their level best to send her back to Imphal and throw her into the old confinement. More importantly I asked that very activist repeatedly “Does Sharmila herself really intend to leave Delhi and come back to Imphal?” I never got a straight answer from him.  He made up his mind, I believe, to happen it as soon as possible. I was wondering why he was ready to go congruent with government’s desire.
That evening somewhere in February 2007, in an attempt to convince me of the good side of Sharmila’s return to Imphal, he took me to a senior citizen. I suspect, he made the senior citizen persuade me.  The latter said to me “You people have to properly understand the whole situation of the movement. You know, Sonia Gandhi came to Imphal and she did a good campaign for Congress, If Sharmila is brought  back to Imphal, she can do campaign for (a party, named withheld here)”. I was shocked and shattered! “Oh my god! Such immature idea from whom I regard as respectable mentor” I cried but in silence I knew they were condescending, undermining my true concern. From that moment onwards I felt like inclining myself to silence and also an impression of distrust was imprinted on my mind. On 4 March 2007, Sharmila flying back home stealthily which supposed to be a big din; no Meira Paibis, no civil societies, no press, virtually none were there to greet our phenomenal anti AFSPA crusader. Being the timing was 5 day Yaosang holiday in Manipur, press media were sleeping. The move was so calculative and plan was carried out perfectly. Later, the questions were asked, answers were justified but only to deepen the polarization and distrust among ourselves ever. I gradually started withdrawing my engagement, and perhaps coincidentally money and awards too started flowing in to Sharmila.
Second, maybe Sharmila’s resentment towards her own peoples and civil society organizations (CSOs) is justifiable in some ways. Despite the good concern and solidarity with Sharmila from Ima Meira Paibis, there were lapses and poor coordination.  In the summer of 2004 following the rape and brutal killing of Ms. Thangjam Manorama by Indian Army, Apunba Lup was floated at a Sangoi (extension parlor of Meetei house) of Manorama’s neighbors.  I was there as one of the human rights activists. There were about 32 volunteer groups in the Lup. Many of these groups held Ningol Chakkouba, (the biggest luncheon festival meant for our sisters) every year at public domain. Considering the relevance of Ningol Chakkouba and Sharmila’s hunger strike I put up a proposal to drop Chakkouba once organized by Lup’s members and also to appeal the public to call off the festival as a symbolic protest in solidarity with her fasting. Nothing happened, went in vain. However my long standing proposal to Apunba Lup to embrace Sharmila as part of anti AFSPA campaign was realized two years later. Soon I came across plenty of in-house challenges caused by indigent organizational operation. Absence of commitment, active presence of group-ego and individualism brought up inefficiency and mismanagement in the campaign. Usually what I experienced was of wasting of our time and energy focusing on non-issues instead of burying ourselves in the issue based challenges. It might have killed some segments of the spirit of this “Defiant Lady”, I believe.
The rebuttal from two or three CSO leaders in front of media cameras will remain rather a rhetoric only disabling ourselves to see the reality and failing to address our own weakness. In fact, these have been strength we have given to external hands and state agents to sabotage Sharmila’s phenomenal hunger strike. 

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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