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In Hope Of Saving "The Savior Of Hope"

By Mouli Banerjee

03 November, 2012

Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign is observing 12 Article series to reflect 12 years of suppression of Irom Sharmila's fast. Irom Sharmila is completing her 12 years of fast on 5th November. This is the 10th in the series

Each second resounds in my wristwatch tonight- a click and a click and a click further into time, a moment and a moment and another moment lost; a world in need, crying out for change, here I am, in my feeble attempt to contribute, staring at the computer screen, wondering where to begin. The room is silent and pregnant with poignant thoughts. At a friend’s suggestion, I have prepared myself to write an article on Irom Sharmila. My regimented mind, trained to think in terms of pointers and academic discussions, had involuntarily made a list of things to say about her. But such is the power of an existence like hers, way above the mortal ordinariness that defines the life of someone like me, that my silly mental bullet-points blur into each other till in the force of all that Irom Sharmila stands for, each thought melts into another and floods my brain; all that is left is a river of emotions.

The Iron Lady of Manipur, to use the clichéd phrase now identified with Irom Sharmila, has been on a fast since November 5, 2000. She has written to the highest authorities in the country, she has personally met dignitaries who have all promised her their support, she has marched to iconic landmarks to direct public attention to her uniquely resilient protest. All of this, for one straightforward demand that hasn’t wavered over twelve years- the repealing of AFSPA. Her protest came into the limelight for most people in my generation through the comparision of her fast to anti-corruption protests led by Anna Hazare and his team. To question or justify the validity of that particular movement would require digressing into unrelated territories, but one must note that as far as resilience and fasting was concerned, Irom Sharmila’s dedication to her cause was way superior to that of her counterparts in the anti-corruption movement. And yet, not only did the media focus its attentions on the movement led by Anna Hazare, but the movement itself proved to be a political game-changer for India, with the Ruling Party cowering under the pressures of the protesting public and the Opposition sweeping in to declare its sympathies with it.

I feel that this is relevant to the case of Irom Sharmila in two ways, as a glimmer of hope and a cause of despair as well. Hope perhaps resides in the fact that the Indian society is evidently capable of being an agent of change, if it so chooses. The cause of despair, quite obviously in this case, is that for them, the bitter, painful political statement of Irom Sharmila is perhaps nothing but a unique piece of news. The ones who sympathise with her too are perhaps only move to a state of awe but nothing more ensues out of it.

As opposed to teams of powerful men and women creating rallies for their cause, here is a woman, an ordinary woman, who decided one morning to fight for not just her own rights but the rights of her people. Here is a woman who is also a sister, a daughter and had aspirations like any other twenty-eight year old would, and she put all her ordinary dreams on hold in order to fulfill a greater destiny, to bear a light for others to follow. Here is a woman who declared a hunger strike twelve years ago for a particular cause and has stuck by her resolve.

As I write on at this moment, emotions rule my fingers and I’ll not deny, that there are indeed times when the cynic in me slowly speaks up, reminding me that given the history of the Indian State, that in spite of everything, the AFSPA will perhaps not be repealed, that it is really the poetry of the lost cause that appeals to the futile imaginations of a stagnated public that constitutes this nation. And then just as I encounter such thoughts, I remind myself that life is much, much more than cynicism. That Irom Sharmila’s protest is not one of despair; it is one of pure hope, something that still believes in appealing to a human sense of compassion and justice. Every day, she works a little further towards her goal, whether it is in her stubborn determination to continue fasting or her recent refusal of any awards till the AFSPA be repealed. She need not make a political statement at a press meet- her entire existence itself is a political protest of the highest order. Not all of us perhaps can be as extraordinary in our courage, but if she cannot inspire us to bring about a change in whatever little way possible, nothing perhaps can.

When I think of her and her hopes, I’m reminded of Joseph Conrad’s words-

“I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more- the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth and all men… the triumphant conviction of strength, the heart of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows cold, grows small, and expires- and expires too soon, too soon- before life itself!”

Before I can claim to contribute to save Sharmila, I must admit that she has saved me, by inspiring me with a purpose. Here is a woman who has sacrificed her youth for her people, and here’s hoping that the hope doesn’t leave her ever. Here’s hoping that the people rise up in support, inspired, to keep the torch of human rights she has lit, burning and alive.

Mouli Banerjee is enrolled in the MA program at St. Stephens college, DU. She is a volunteer of Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign.




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