High drama ensued when the court of the Judicial Magistrate Imphal East ordered the release of 42 year old Irom Sharmila from custody on Thursday. The court dismissed all charges against her saying that the prosecution has been unable to establish that Sharmila had been trying to commit suicide.
While the proceedings for her release were completed by three in the afternoon on Thursday, the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences was eerily quiet with only the police visible.
Her usual battery of supporters, mainly comprising of Meira Paibis only started gathering from half past four. Sharmila could be seen standing at the grilled gate, the entrance to the hospital ward where she has been kept prisoner for 14 years now, waiting for someone to release her.
This is the second time in a year that Sharmila has been released. As the Meira Paibis started gathering Sharmila disappeared inside her ward again, refusing to meet them.
Miffed with the way her fiancé Desmond Coutinho was roughed up by the Meira paibis at her last court appearance Sharmila refused to leave her home and prison of 14 years with her supporters. The Imas (Mothers) of Manipur arrived wanting to take Sharmila to their shed at Porompat, a stones throw from the hospital and always near ready medical help.
But Sharmila remained adamant. She wanted to go to the Ima Keithel or the mothers market in the heart of Imphal. It was at the Ima Keithel that Sharmila received a rousing welcome from thousands of women who gathered at the market to lend their support. Many broke down on seeing their idol.
Meira paibi leader S Momon Leima starts an argument with the officer in charge – the Imas are to take Sharmila to their office. The police officer tells her it is simply not possible for them to force Sharmila to go anywhere she doesn’t want to.
“We have been handling Sharmila’s struggle on the outside for 14 years now. We have sacrificed so much for her and have always been there for her. Now she is treating us like this – blaming us for what happened to that man – who we all know is an agent sent by the central government to derail our struggle against AFSPA. This is just childishness – she is throwing childish tantrums,’’she says talking to The Indian Express.
As the stalemate continued the Meira Paibis huddled ouside the gates working and reworking strategies as Sharmila could be seen through a sliver of a gap in the door, pacing up and down in a white woolly cap. Two hours of negotiations later the mothers give in – they will take Sharmila wherever she wants to go and Sharmila accedes to being received by them.
But once out the mothers take a U-turn trying to convince Sharmila to come to their office instead. “No no please please,’’Sharmila pleads. “Please leave me alone. I don’t want to see any of our faces. I want to do this by myself,’’she says jumping into an auto. “I want to go to Ima Keithel by myself. I don’t want them. The ladies of the keithel will take care of me. God will protect me,’’she tells The Indian Express.
After much cajoling the mothers finally board the autorickshaw with Sharmila and take her to the market. The refuse to let her get off and Sharmila starts crying. She tries forcing her way out of the autorickshaw. When the mothers realize there is no convincing her, they finally accompany her to Shamu Makhong, the elephant statue at the centre of the square. And it is under a roofless starless chilly night that the Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila is to spend her first night out as a free woman.
“We don’t know how long Sharmila will be out this time either. In all probability she will be re-arrested. There is a case against her pending in the Patiala Court in Delhi which the state of Manipur has filed under section 309.
But while it is most likely that she would be arrested once more, like last year when she was arrested on the second day of her release, they should not arrest her this time considering that a statement has been placed in the Parliament considering throwing this law out altogether. We will have to see what happens,’’says Babloo Loitongbam speaking from Guahati. Loitongbam is the executive director of Human Rights Alert, an organization which has been spearheading the Save Sharmila Campaign.