At the Carmel Jyoti Convent, an orphanage for HIV infected and affected children of Manipur, in Mantripukhri in Imphal East, 44 year old Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila Chanu is surrounded by children. She has ridden to the Convent, which is on the outskirts of Imphal city this morning. “I am living with my older sister Gomti Devi at Keishamthong. I went to the Kangla Fort this morning where there is a cycle club. They leant me a cycle and I came down here. It took me about half an hour to get here. I came here because being around these children relaxes me,” says Irom.
The convent is run by a Sister of Carmel Jyoti from Kerala, Sister Pauline, and the sisters of the convent look after children who have been affected by HIV – once an epidemic in erstwhile conflict ridden Manipur.
“I wanted to say goodbye to them (the children) silently,” she adds.
Today’s election result, in which Irom Sharmila lost to chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, is not a surprise to most. Thoubal assembly constituency is Singh’s stronghold and he has been undefeated here for three terms. Irom’s choosing such a difficult constituency has brought her respect from many. But the results, Irom till morning had only 23 votes, has shocked her. Even the Nota votes in the constituency have been more 36.
“I knew the results in the morning so I have come here to relax. I am leaving Manipur for a bit. I will go to South India, to Kerala for sometime, maybe a month, to an ashram where I can meditate and concentrate on spirituality,” she says.
Irom breaks down while talking of her loss. “I feel betrayed. But it is not the people’s fault. They are just innocent people. I don’t know why I am crying. I don’t feel that I am defeated morally. People would’ve have voted for me but their right to vote has been occupied by money. Many people told me, oh eche (sister) we would’ve voted for you, but we have already received money. You are too late, you are too late – they told me,” she says sitting inside a cabin at the orphanage.
Irom says she will quit politics.” In the morning first I thought, let me try once more for the MP elections. But later I realised, that there is a disconnect between my mind and my heart. I will leave politics, I will never fight another election,”she says.
Irom says she will continue her struggle against AFSPA however, “through other platforms”. “I will lobby for this cause all over the world. I don’t know where I will live, but if you serve the people, you can serve them from anywhere,” she says.
Irom still believes that the formation of PRJA party, which fielded only three candidates all of whom have lost, was a good idea. “I want PRJA to continue and to grow. I want it to become a peoples movement backed by the youth of Manipur. I was invited by many parties to join them, including on the day of polling, for future elections. But I turned them down,” she says.
Irom proceeds to say goodbye to the children she has spent the morning with…away from buzzing Imphal where celebrations of candidate victories are underway.
“Sometimes I feel like I have been public property. But from now on, Irom Sharmila will decide her own fate,” she says before peddling off to Imphal city once more.