A Public Battle

Thirteen years into Irom Sharmila Chanu’s fast unto death,her struggle is being highlighted through plays,films and books

Written by Debjani Paul | Published: July 17, 2013 3:04 am

A few years ago,freelance graphic artist Nitesh Mohanty was about to start working on a new book jacket. When he got the brief for Deepti Priya Mehrotra’s Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur,he decided to read and find out about Irom Sharmila Chanu,the Armed Forced Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Chanu’s fast unto death to protest AFSPA.

What he also came across was other artists who were moved by Chanu’s struggle and were telling her story through their respective arts,forming an essential bridge between social issues and the masses. “There were many people who supported her,but because she is in judicial custody,she may not even know how much support is out there for her. We began to think of a way to get a message through to her and thought of postcards,” he says. That is how the project “Postcards for Irom” was born,receiving over a 100 entries over a span of two years.

Hearing about Mohanty’s project,author Minnie Vaid decided to write about it in her new book,Iron Irom: Two Journeys. Keeping Chanu’s story in the foreground,Vaid writes about the many struggles in Manipur. “I am trying to bring alive the story of Irom Sharmila and her 13-year fast without food and water,set in the backdrop of a state that is plagued by various problems,not just insurgency. Sharmila’s story is one of the most unique and courageous stories that I have come across in my professional career,” says Vaid,whose association with Manipur goes back to 1992,when she was reporting on insurgency in the state.

Both Mohanty and Vaid will visit the city on Saturday,to discuss the postcards and the book at “Evoking Irom”,an event organized by Black Swan and Open Space. Le Mashale,a play by Rekha Thakur narrating Chanu’s story,will also be staged during the event. Vaid,whose book has created awareness about Chanu,says,“I think it is great to see this kind of synergy,to have a book reading,an art exhibition and a theatrical performance on one platform,highlighting one issue or one person.”

While researching for her book,Vaid turned to another artist’s work — My Body My Weapon,a docu-film by Kavita Joshi. Joshi,too,had an old association with Manipur and had been making films about the state since 2001. She went there in 2006 to make My Body My Weapon as part of the “Why Democracy” project. “When the media covers an issue,it reaches out to a huge number of people. But when artistes cover it,it goes out to a smaller but engaged audience,” says Joshi,whose film has over 50,000 views on YouTube.

Chanu’s determination to use her body as a weapon of protest and expression inspired Ojas SV to come up with the play,Le Mashale. “It’s a soliloquy narrating the story of a young Manipuri girl who observes the situations around her and eventually determines to fast to protest the violence,” says Ojas. She adds that the role of an artiste is to communicate these issues in a way that can touch hearts. “We have to bring these real stories to real lives and people,” she says.

“Evoking Irom” will be held at

Open Space,Lane 7,Koregaon Park,

on Saturday,5:30 pm onwards

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