A lonely mother’s long wait for Iron Sharmila’s victory

Imphal: “I have promised myself not to go and see her as she is on ‘hunger strike’ for a good cause and I could not follow her, but will continue to wait for her victorious return,” uttered Irom Shakhi, mother of Irom Sharmila, who is on hunger strike for more than 10 years demanding repeal of AFSPA.

Sharmila (42) has been on hunger strike demanding repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 from Manipur after the killing of 10 civilians by Assam Rifles personnel in an alleged encounter with insurgents at Malom area near Imphal airport on November 2, 2000.

Irom Shakhi said she was very proud of her daughter, but at the same time she felt pity and unhappy thinking about the condition of her daughter who has been in judicial custody and at government-run J N I Medical Sciences and Hospital here since November 4,2000 after her arrest and is being fed through nose. Sharmila has been released and re-arrested from time to time since then.

“Like other people she (Sharmila) cannot eat good food or wear good clothes,” said Shakhi who has not seen her daughter for more than 10-years except once or twice in the hospital in her early stage of hunger strike.

Shakhi said the family have also stopped celebrating most of the festivals and especially Ningol Chakouba, a grand feast festival in Manipur during which girls and women are invited to parental house for a special feast by their father and brother. She said she has four daughters and Sharmila is the youngest of them.

Sharmila left home without letting her family know that she was going for the hunger strike, Shakhi said weeping all the time during a chat with some newspersons at her house at Kongpal area in Imphal East district on Wednesday.

Irom Shakhi said she missed her daughter so much adding she could not sleep on many occasions thinking of her and often got sick also. She expressed her gratitude towards ‘Sharmila Kanba Lup’ (a social organisation formed to save Sharmila) for their support to Sharmila and her cause.

She said Sharmila’s childhood days were mostly spent under the great care of her elder brother Irom Shinghajit who now sometimes acts as a link between his sister and public particularly from outside the state who wanted to meet her. He arranges meeting by contacting the authorities.

Shinghajit who was also present said they (family) did not visit Sharmila anymore as they did not want to distract her attention, adding that it is also a long process to see her.

It normally takes 30 to 40 days to complete the process. “Irom Sharmila was booked under section 309 of IPC which was only for one year and so they (authorities) release her after the completion of every one year, but she do not come home and instead goes straight to ‘Maira Sang’ (a place where social agitation was launched in Imphal east district) and continues her fast,” Shinghajit said.

He said the family and friends shared her suffering days of struggle and during 2000-2006, they had to struggle a lot with most of the time as she felt isolated and helpless.

But, people’s attention was drawn to her cause from 2006 onwards, he claimed.

Shinghajit said Sharmila, supported by her friends, shifted her fast to Delhi on October 4, 2006 but came back to Imphal after some months.

Sharmila whose fast has been acknowledged by many international organisations and bagged international award for her cause, used to be a columnist in a popular local vernacular daily, ‘Huieyen Lanpao’ and would take part in social activities, her brother said.

A Kerala-based theatre group recently produced a play based on the activities of Sharmila recently, Shinghajit said.

Shinghajit said Sharmila does yoga for four-hours a day. “While taking bath, she makes sure that even a drop of water does not goes into her mouth, as she promised herself that until her demands are fulfilled she will not eat or drink a single drop of water,” added her brother.