Irom Sharmila was free again for a day, but rearrested as expected the next day on the same charges that the court had ruled was not applicable to her `“ attempt to commit suicide. Nobody, not even the diehard optimist expected it to be otherwise. For indeed, aside of all the rhetoric that fly around every time she emerges out of her lonely jail ward at the JN Hospital, and comes to be in the spotlight during her periodic court appearances and annual ritual of release from custody and re-arrest, nobody from their heart believes there is any real option. To ask her to be freed from custody without first granting her demand of the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, would virtually amount to asking her to die. Her martyrdom thereafter would be destined to become the rallying point for the ritual protests and theatrics that this place has become so accustomed to. The troubling thought is, many actually invite such a tragedy so that they will have the opportunity to curse the tragedy that they first of all wished for. It is despairing to see Manipur so fatally attracted to self defeating death wishes, to allude to a Freudian metaphor. For a lot many others however, it is a tearing dilemma, for they want two seemingly irreconcilable outcomes `“Sharmila free but alive. These two results seem irreconcilable because of what she is up against. It is unfortunate but true, that the Indian establishment at this moment is clueless as to what the liberal answer to AFSPA should be. Sharmila`™s heroic resistance it does seem is headed to be paid for with the ultimate price. As well known public intellectual Ranabir Sammadar once noted in a lecture, redemption in any powerful resistance movement, usually is associated with death. He also noted, how nobody at Jesus Christ`™s time could have imagined the silent revolution that swept the whole world with his death at the end of his resistance.
Of late, the Sharmila story has been given another twist. She now has a private battle to fight, and this one too seems a losing one. She is a public figure with a huge following, some of whom almost deify her. Her fans understandably idolise her for certain super human qualities they attribute her. Any perceived climb down from this idealistic pedestal they placed her on would be blasphemy in their eyes. For them she is not a mere mortal and any act that they see as profaning that iconic image of her would outrage them. It is the same indignation with which believers discount all thoughts of possibilities that Jesus may have married and his blood descendants are still in this world. This is also the inner conflict all known public figures have had to deal with. As a private person, Sharmila is free to be what she wants to be. As a public figure, her role is somewhat predetermined by public expectations. The reconciliation that must be made is between the two worlds she inhabits. Her followers, and not the least she herself, would have to come to terms with this inner conflict.
But this script of Sharmila`™s story is a little more complex, and avoidably so. It is not just about whether she should be allowed to keep a boyfriend, but also about how this affair is conducted in public space. It is also true that as an intern in the jail, she hardly has any private space, but she and her boyfriend ought to have been a little more sensitive about certain things. This is a society in which even married couples do not hug, hold hands, pet or pat each other in public. Why, even in Christian marriages in the church, the bride and bridegroom do not kiss. This is a society where public shows of physical affection are alien. Her outsider boyfriend not understanding this cultural trait is understandable, but it is surprising Sharmila too forgot this. The outrage in the court in which Sharmila`™s supporters manhandled her boyfriend, a fact that Sharmila is bitter about, was provoked to a large extent by such oversights of cultural sensitivities. Let there not be any doubt that there are so many boys and girls from Manipur who have taken partners outside their communities, but given a little humility to respect the culture of the place, they have faced no problems at all. Then there are the self righteous hordes eagerly jumping to conclusions that this is hypocrisy of the anti AFSPA movement leaders, and gleefully pronounced the rift between the latter and Sharmila. What is more apparent is, the moral high grounds they presume and their shows of disdain are more like, to use a term coined by the frenzied denizens of the social media, narcissistic `selfies`™, attempting to rub some of Sharmila`™s halo on to themselves.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam