We have reached to a point where if Eche Irom Sharmila wakes up today and starts eating and eating beef the Indian nation is going to charge at her, first for eating, and then for eating beef. People in Delhi and Bombay and Allahabad are going to scowl at her for upsetting the little sympathy they’ve garnered over the image of her weak frame and unkempt hair (the same kind of sympathy you garner upon seeing small kids begging on Indian roadsides). Why Irom Sharmila – their cry will go like this – how can you be so inconsiderate and hurt our feelings when we are beginning to develop a certain likeness for you after all?
So where has Eche’s protest gone? A protest that was supposed to be against the idea of India and India’s policy in the region to begin with, has now been reduced to a cliché. Nobody talks about the idea of India when talking about her, nobody talks about what Indian nation is (who are included in it, who cannot be included, and so on), nobody associates her to the original Indian occupation of the state – when all of these, if you consider, has always the central question Eche raised. Who swept aside this central question of hers and turned her into a theatre and a circus clown?
Compare Eche’s more-than-a-decade-old campaign with the event that is still unfolding in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where, upon the slightest suggestion of ‘azaadi’ (Freedom) by a certain student, a wide range of debate on what India is has ensued: whether India is secular nation or a Hindu one, the difference between the two narratives, or is it just another colonial formation that was designed to oppress and colonize, etc. At one point a renowned professor at the university even pointed out in a public speech that Kashmir and Manipur were illegally occupied by India – something not usually admitted in the Indian public, even by their most progressive ones; and yet she did. Everyone feels and knows this is a high-stake issue and they cannot afford to remain silent. If this is the kind of debate a small after-class huddle of students can spark, why has a longstanding, now already world famous project called “Irom Sharmila,” which by the way raises similar questions the JNU debate has raised, not been able to produce any such a debate — not least among the Manipuris?
It’s hard to say this but it’s true: Eche’s protest no longer remains a protest. It has lost all meaning
Now that I have given the ground and we are aware of where Eche and her campaign’s relevance stands today, let me come to straight what I have come to say. Obviously we cannot allow Eche and her struggle go to waste. Letting it sink into oblivion after all that would be foolish. Something needs to be done to reinstate meaning and relevance to the whole campaign. A meaning-(re)giving act, a ritual, must be performed. A final act. And the person who can perform this act is only she herself.
But what act? What is it she must do now?
She must do that very thing I hinted in the very first line of this writing. Break her fast. Eche Irom Sharmila should immediately start eating. Not just that, she must commemorate the event (for indeed it will be an event!) with the earth’s finest beef steak (and it has to be beefsteak – no chicken and pork business here). This I say for three reasons:
1. Ideological. The idea of self-denial as a political act without mass backing is nihilistic (meaningless). It’s a Buddhist idea, an idea of the weak, and it leads to suicide (death). The way Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Anna Hazare used self-denial was in the form of blackmail, as tactic, with the possibility of mass riots always backing them. In Eche’s case a mass backing of that proportion has never manifested.
2. Historical. NGOs and rights activists seem to have taken over Eche’s cause. While Eche’s cause has been against AFSPA (and by extension India’s policy and the idea of India itself), these NGOs and rights activists have reduced her cause to a mere ‘human rights’ funeral march totally sidetracking the question of nationhood and emancipation that was raised. Why they have done this I have no idea, but I’d like to see the industry of NGOs and funding agencies surrounding Eche go. I’d very much like to see those dozen or score people benefitting from this industry lose their funding-agency based livelihood so that they can now return to the street and work for affirming historical and political rights of the people Eche represents. Start working with the neighborhood, with schools, colleges, universities, and community clubs.
3. Semiological. With this one single act – lunging into a deep bowl of the earth’s finest beefsteak – Eche has now the chance to bring back life and relevance to a cause whose meaning is slowly slipping away. This would be her nail on the Wittenberg Church door: once and for all she will have declared her inviolability. Not by time, not by those working against her. A matter of great significance, something that will do justice to the years she crawled under the earth, this act would strike right at the heart of the complacency and the laziness and the fake sympathies surrounding her. It would be an act of sublime wickedness, a most self-assured intellectual malice, the finest creative endeavour a free-spirited person can pull off. An act of the strong and not the weak. To tell the world: I am strong. We are strong. We will not wither away under your gaze and your sympathies. Enough is enough. Here is what I did, and here’s still more I can do!
One final act
– or wither!
By : Iril Turell