Let Sharmila decide her own future without any guilt
Irom Sharmila is in love. As soon as you say this, a great deal of wonder and hatred follows, for many there is complete surprise to discover that the superhuman that she is now equated with has a heart within. For the others this revelation is almost seen as an attack to the battle against AFSPA, to side track it or to be somehow pushing Delhi's agenda. As just another human being who has met her, observed her and spoken to her for years now, I have never understood why a completely personal decision of Sharmila should be a threat to the campaign itself or be seen as one. As a journalist, I have now realised how the campaign against AFSPA has leaned on her way too much.
The young woman has done more than enough to highlight the issue, bring it to focus and give it the dogged human face that every change so badly wants. How should civil society act with this personal information? Should there be an encouragement to get her to end this self-inflicted torture and perhaps carry on the struggle in a different form? Or should an icon not be entitled these privileges? Should her so called love affair with an otherwise unknown man scare her followers away and cause so much chaos and disarray?
The story of her love affair is heart warming for sure and I can see why the media last year went in a tizzy when a newspaper published a front page article of the same. News value and journalistic gut have some how never found the story of her fast and her demand of the repeal of AFSPA meaty enough to be put on a front page. The story of her love affair and the disillusionment it caused within and outside proves a lot. Not just about Irom Sharmila but about the entire campaign itself that hasn't been able to go beyond the icon. Such is the dependence on Sharmila that even a whiff of love in the air can cause fear. Sharmila's mother Irom Sakhi often becomes stoic when the hint of her daughter's possible matrimony is brought into the conversation, her brother, her steadfast supporter and a loyal soldier in this battle Singhajit becomes uncomfortable at the mention of the man who has caught his sister's attention through a period of sustained communication and gifts. The state's fiery Meira Paibis who have lead Manipur through two Nupilan's aren't willing to accept matters of the heart.
Last year when the Anna agitation was at its peak, Sharmila told me, "I just feel somewhat isolated, not lonely, isolated. I have no one. My duty is my duty."
She had then gone on to show how the large faced sunny yellow soft toy with a red beak was a gift from a man she loved. How she had savored the stack of books he had sent and how she aches to be articulate enough to convey her feelings to him. But such is the burden of expectations and the politics of this fast, that love, marriage, togetherness all have no place.
It's easy to call Sharmila's battle an extraordinary one. Today she stands at a crossroad. Uncomfortable with tags of epic and iconic, aching to be just an ordinary girl, with a man she loves, in a land she loves.
Sharmila's small little love story has so far remained confined to the four walls of her hospital room, a few soft toys, a rosary, books and a few glances at a court room in Imphal. Which way it should go should be left to her. Let Sharmila decide her own future without any guilt.
(Irom Sharmila's fast completed 12 years on Nov 2, the day her family says her fast began, or the 4th, 5th, 6th of November when the fast got the public attention, however small it maybe)
More about Anubha Bhonsle
Anubha Bhonsle is an anchor and Senior Editor of CNN-IBN. She has been a journalist for over 15 years, starting her career with The Indian Express, then moving to be part of Miditech, the Zee Group, subsequently joining New Delhi Television where she was part of the political bureau and an anchor. Anubha joined CNN-IBN at inception, as prime-time anchor and Senior Editor. She is a graduate in Journalism and a post-graduate in social communication. As a Jefferson fellow she researched on America’s political history and the role of gender and race. Anubha and her team have been part of many award-winning projects. Her documentaries on Irom Sharmila and Children of Conflict won appreciation internationally, at the New York Film Festival and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Anubha is a cleanliness freak, loves collecting kettles and admires Pearl Buck. She lives in Delhi with her family.