A day after she broke her 16-year fast against a law that gives sweeping powers to the military, Irom Sharmila is suddenly finding herself virtually friendless in Manipur.
From her family to close friends and even neighbours, no one wants to even shake hands with a feisty woman who went without food and water these long years, earning the sobriquet “Iron Lady”.
Ironically, she has returned to the same hospital which had been her home for 16 years. But this time it has nothing to do with her health.
It is simply because she has no place to sit or sleep. Her own family doesn’t want her. When some good samaritans offered her temporary shelter, locals came out to object.
After being released by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Imphal West on Tuesday evening, she was taken to the house of an activist, Thiyam Suresh, a former doctor who had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.
Local women have made it known that she was not welcome in the locality. She then went to two other places, only to meet similar public resistance.
Dejected, the 44-year-old and her police guards then went to ISKCON, perhaps to take temporary shelter. From there, she was taken to a police station. And again to J.N. Institute of Medical Sciences where she had been warded for 16 years.
Referring to her decision to contest against Chief Minister Okram Ibobi in Thoubal constituency to become the next Chief Minister of Manipur, a Congress leader told IANS that this was wishful thinking.
Hemanta Ningomba, editor of Hueiyen Lanpao, added: “On July 26 Sharmila said she would contest from Khurai constituency. Now she says it has to be Thoubal. Does she know that politics is about money and muscle power?”
The “Save Sharmila Group” and others have distanced themselves from her. There was nobody to console her at the court complex on Tuesday.
On her part, Sharmila is unhappy that people have not understood her decision to give up the hunger strike, get into politics and also marry.
All the national and international reporters have left Imphal. She does not know where to go. But she cannot stay in the hospital for long. She is not ready for now to talk about her “tactical mistakes”.
What seems to have dawned on her is that it is not easy to win elections, far less become the Chief Minister.
Women activists seem to be unhappy with her plan to marry an NRI. Those women who launched a relay hunger strike in solidarity now say that Sharmila must have been “brainwashed” by giving her a mobile and laptop in jail.
In the past, the government had to spend over Rs 80,000 per month for nasal feeding. But she has to foot the bill for food now. The issue is — where will she get the money? Who will support her?
Sharmila began her protest hunger strike in 2000 after 10 civilians were killed by security forces. She went on to become an icon. Amnesty International declared her a Prisoner of Conscience. She also earned much recognition globally.
But on Wednesday, Sharmila finds herself more lonely than ever before.
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