This short clip, filmed by Kavita Joshi, was made around 8 years into Irom Sharmila's Fast, now entering its 13th year. It powerfully demonstrates who Irom Sharmila is, and why she has persisted in the use of the Fast, in this way. Presently I am working on a chapter on Irom Sharmila of Manipur, in a book about the use of the Fast. In this examination, the relationship between the ideal that she has insistently clung to, since November 5, 2000 until the present, and its power to enlist the support of individuals to transform society is evident.
In this forum, I want to share insights that most probably won't make it to the Chapter, as well as learn what you have to say on this subject, your opinons on the use of the Fast in this regard, on the ideal to manifest the change we want to see in our lives.
The ideal is only reached and known through subtle instruments, for it is the ideal that inspires us. Inspiration is the only real education that we get in life. Once we are inspired, we find, ferret out, and open ourselves to knowing and expressing, to manifesting, that inspiration. All else is information, or ettiquette: useful, but not dynamic, creative, and transformative. Very often, the information that passes as education, has come from someone elses by-gone inspiration.
Since 1958, Manipur, and much of the Northeastern states of India, and more recently, Kashmir, have been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act - AFSPA. This act gives the army entrenched in the area broad and sweeping powers over civilians. They have the power to arrest, detain, to kill, with legal immunity. Their victims, the subjects of such abuse of power, have no legal recourse to turn to. With power, comes corruption. Innumerable instances of unjustifiable violence, raping, harassment, and terrorism of the people has occured.
Recently, increasing incidences of `faked encounters' with `terrorists' have been found in army sponsored murderings of innocent civilians. Killing `terrorists' is awarded with medals, promotions, and status. I know it sounds like something way out of the dark ages, and it is, and, its going on everywhere now, not only India.
In Manipur, the draconian law has kept corrupt power in force for 55 years. Generations have now come and gone under it. The consequent instability of society and suffering of the people is immense. The Indians living in the North East, particularly, in Manipur, are under a state of seige and terror.
On November 2, 2000, in Malom, a village close to the airport, several kilometers away from Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, 10 people were waiting for the bus at a stop. A truck filled with army security people, with guns, came toward them. That morning, someone had tried to bomb the camp of the Assam Rifles - the name of the division of troops that comprise the AFSPA in Manipur.
Of the people standing, ``Five were residents of Malon village - 27 year old S. Robinson Singh, 17 year old S. Chandramani Singh, 19 year old T. Shantikumar Singh, 18 year old S. Prakash Singh, and 23 year old Inaocha Singh. 50 year old K. Bijoy Singh from Leimapokpam, 60 year old L. Sana Devi from Kabow Wakching, 50 year old O. Sanayaima Singh, and 34 year old A. Raghumani Singh, from Nambol Naoren." ( From: Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur, by Deepti Priya Mehrotra, (2009) Penguin Books, New Delhi: page 2)
Of these, one was a grandmother, another, a young man who had been awarded a civilian honour for civic duty. Clearly, none of these were terrorists.
The army truck came driving up, and, without warning, massacred them all.
Learning of this, 28 year old Irom Sharmila became sick in heart. It is our heart that is the seat of true knowing within us. Indian metaphysics calls it the hridaya, the center, the seat of knowledge in our being. We call it our heart, as the cardiac muscle is so quickly affected physically by it. Through our hearts, we have the capacity to know and touch truth, reality, that which really is, which is eternal, which both transcends, and informs our environment. It is in this reality, that we can truly touch one another at a very deep level.
Sharmila spent two sleepless nights, agonized. Longing to help the innocent people in Manipur, to help those everywhere suffering under government sponsored terrorism. She did not come from a rich family, she had no influence with the existent structures of power and politics. She was helpless.
A person who is helpless, who is in pain, who is alone, calls out to the only One that can help them. They close their eyes, and yell in silent agony for God. This `God' is something that each person carries within themselves. For Irom Sharmila, it was for truth to manifest its reality into the ignorance that surrounds her, that has invaded Manipur for generations, the truth that all human beings know - that we are made out of a deep love, and have the responsibility to relate to one another as such. This was the power that Gandhi was able to evoke.
She told her family, she felt called undertake an action for the Nation, that it was her duty. November 5th, she announced a Fast until death, until the AFSPA act was repealed from Manipur. She went to the site of the massacre, to the bus stop in Malom, and lay down. Within 2 days, she was arrested for `attempting suicide', and a 12+ year ordeal began, of detention, forced feeding, and restriction of her basic human rights, and even physical movement within the hospital room. In a militarized police state, Irom Sharmila is now a political prisoner.
Since then, Irom Sharmila has not even tasted water. She wipes out her mouth with dry paper. She is now 40 years of age. The meridian of her adult life, forsaking the joys of family life, and countless self-entertainments, the joys of friends, of being in Nature, of eating this or that, has been spent alone, in a jail hopsital room, in an unwavering determination to see the AFSPA repealed.
Word spread quickly among the people, and Sharmila became a symbol of the pure righteousness of their resistance to the AFSPA. Throughout India now, Irom Sharmila is a symbol of the power of a single person, clinging to the truth of the ideal, the potential of our positive human relations with one another, our single shared conscience. Internationally, she stands for relief from oppression from all government violence upon the people. She stands as a person walking in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi.
Psychologically, she is sounder, more loving, more clear thinking, more honest and simple, than anyone we could normally meet. In an interview on March 13, after Irom Sharmila was released for the 12th time, from over a year's straight detention for the charge of ``attempted suicide" she said:
`` I always follow my conscience. My conscience always keeps me in balance in body and in mind. I never see my situation as being tough or my circumstances as being easy. My conscience tells me what is wrong and what is right. It is a people’s movement. They need to realise this. It is the beginning of a real movement. I am hopeful even if the government is trying to ignore my voice. My real target will be fulfilled if the people awaken."
I urge everyone, to spread awareness of Irom Sharmila, and to join this discussion. You may know of others who are refusing to cooperate with unrighteousness. Let their names be raised, their stories heard!
Let all human beings be touched, in the heart, by her courageous and resolute effort, as a loving person, a loving woman, who seeks peace, that all people may live a better life. We all share a united conscience.