Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year-end post 5: Sharmila Irom

I read a powerful, passionate piece on Manipur's Sharmila Irom. She is fasting for ten years now to demand the repeal of the AFSPA- Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

You will find details of the misuse of the special act in this Tehelka article, but let me tell you something I remember.

On the desk, we selected stories from North-east editions of TOI published a day before for our early edition. I distinctly remember the stories following the killing of Sanjit Singh and a pregnant woman. The follow-ups, the spate of protests, police rebuttal and anger, violence went on for months. My job made it necessary for me to read through all these stories, select and present it to readers in the districts of West Bengal. Ironically, we did not have enough space in our main edition to include even these culled, subbed versions of North-east mayhem. These stories, the continuous stream of violence and unrest in a part of my country unsettled me extremely. Some editions were so moving and so screaming for attention, it seemed as if our early and late editions too should have more space dedicated to this very real, sad and on-going conflict in the country. But no, the paper has a set pattern for various reasons.

Sharmila Irom, to me, is the epitome of feminine gentleness, strength and gumption. I have been hearing about her ever since I was in high school. She's the same frail woman, defying age and medical science with her grit. Ten years, the article says, has finished her. On a physical level, that is. It is something in her steeled psyche, something in her beliefs and goals, something about her consciousness that's keeping her alive. Sharmila, I want you to see the end of your battle and I pray. May 2011 bring you what you want.

Sharmila's protest is dignified with its silent, subtle plea for attention. We read about her, get moved and forget about her for a year or two when again her frail face catches out attention in a daily. It is then that we realise that we have moved on, but this woman is where she was. Alone and hopeful.

What Sharmila wants is not a qualified, select request. If her decade of going without food and water were to shame the state into concrete action, it would send a poignant message to both parties, the armed forces and the rebels, to give peace a chance.

Sharmila on Wikipedia

Photos of Sharmila