Don’t deify Irom Sharmila, dear Manipur, debate issues she raises

What people need to realise is there is no point making a mahatma out of Sharmila. What they need to do is understand, debate, reason with her views on AFSPA

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | August 21, 2014




Irom Sharmila is used to being called a strong woman. But one of the strongest statements she made yesterday (August 20) after breathing in the fresh monsoon air of Imphal – as a free woman and without a tube attached to her nose that is used to force-feed the Manipuri activist – was not about strength per se. In fact, uttered by any other – ‘regular’ – person, it would be deemed one made at a weak, somewhat emotional moment.

“What I need now is mass support from the people. My appeal to them is that they not sing my praises, but give me support in this hour of need,” she was quoted in an Indian Express report shortly after her release from her isolation ward at Imphal’s JNIMS Hospital. That hospital has been, more or less, her home since her arrest almost 14 years ago for her struggle against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA.

While most of us would have made strong, angry noises at such times – and justifiably so – Sharmila’s was a remark of utmost humility. I want to speak with you, and not to you, she seemed to be telling the people.

As a corresponding article in the same paper quotes from an earlier interview, Sharmila wants to be seen as “simply a human being, and not a god”. But that, unfortunately, is not an option for anyone who wants to achieve anything substantial in India. People, as Sharmila has seen and is apprehensive of, as her modest, post-release plea indicated, like to put the handful of such persons on a pedestal. And then worship them.

The problem is, no struggler/activist/achiever is a demi-god. They are all human – “simply a human being, and not a god”, as Sharmila put it so simply and yet eloquently – and they will have human wants, desires, requirements, ‘failings’.

Therefore, the raised eyebrows every time the name Desmond Coutinho comes up. For, Coutinho, a Goan-origin British citizen had ‘dared’ to do the impossible: fall in love with a demi-god. As the Express article notes, “Marrying Coutinho is a desire Sharmila has often expressed, but that is unlikely to go down well with the people of the state.”

It’s a double-edged sword, then. First, you are put on a pedestal, and then, over time, as the ‘mere human’ image begins to frustrate the ‘followers’, you are taken off that pedestal. Not to be returned back to the status of a simple human being, however – you would be yanked off that pedestal, insulted, humiliated and thrown away. A feeling most activists would know all too well.

Around the time Desmond Coutinho and Sharmila were getting to know each other in Spring 2011, a septuagenarian named Anna Hazare was slowly getting acquainted with a nation’s love – and the feeling was mutual. Not many had heard of Hazare outside Maharashtra till then despite his many fasts, satyagrahas and ideas and implementation of model village and swaraj.

But between spring and winter of the year 2011, Hazare had become part of the national heartbeat, put on a pedestal and flaunted by people with much fanfare. He became a nonentity within a year.

What Manipur, and also the rest of the country but especially areas where people are in conflict with AFSPA, needs to realise is there is no point making a mahatma out of Sharmila. What they need to do is understand what she is voicing. Talk about it, discuss it, debate it, read about it, write about it, praise it, pan it – do everything to take the arguments and counter-arguments to their logical end.

What they need not do is make another Hazare of Sharmila.

Comments

 

Other News

"We will be involving community volunteers to effectively police the park"

The work on Sunder Nursery, a lush green refuge from urban chaos in central Delhi, started in 2007, when the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) undertook a conservation and renewal proje

Namami Gange: Of promises and achievements

Twenty-six-year-old Surender is a ferryman in Varanasi. Surender and his family own three boats and their livelihood is dependent on taking tourists on a joyride on the Ganga. Recalling the time when he used to ride a boat with his grandfather, Surender says, “At that time Ganga water was so

Trouble on the metro line

The storm is yet to die out over the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited`s (MMRC) taking over 30 hectares of the famed Aarey colony, a green belt of mumbai, when another application has come in from MMRC demanding another 12,000 sq metres of land. The colony in Goregaon, inaugurated in 195

"Govt must allow open spaces which can serve as lungs for the city"

For years we had a tradition in Mumbai, particularly for all the trunk roads, to be avenues (boulevards). Though we continue to have trees in some parts of Mumbai, the fact is that we appear to have given up on this. Having trees and plants on streets and roads not only provides shade but also absorbs poll

Dry ATMs: Rahul takes a dig at govt

As media reports spoke of ATMs across the country going dry, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the government even as the finance ministry reviewed the situation and blamed it on “unusual demand for cash”. “Desh ke ATM sab phir se khali, Benkon ki haalat kya kar da

A hundred years ago: Lessons in civility

Gandhi was, as usual, busy on several fronts in April 1918. The previous year had witnessed his frst major satyagraha after returning to India, in Champaran. The previous month had witnessed his frst major political campaign in the chosen hometown of Ahmedabad, intervening in the mill-workers strike. B

Current Issue

Current Issue

Video

CM Nitish’s convoy attacked in Buxar

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter