As I sit to write this, I am filled with immense sadness over the state of the Indian democracy. Every once in a while we see or hear of events that defy sane explanations. And they make us question our own ethical reflexes, which seem to slow down owing to existential compulsions or simply insensitivity to reality in a mass media induced mass society.
Okay, I am riveted by the story of Irom Sharmila, a social worker and former newspaper columnist from Imphal in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur. Known as the ‘Iron Lady’ – not for her physical stature, but for her unflinching determination – Sharmila, has apparently, completed today 12 years of an indefinite fast she has been on, to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
I do not need to go into the local political history to understand the situation. Because, somehow, I am unable to wrap my mind to comprehend how a young woman could be so dogged in her resolve, how strong of her convictions, and how resistive to the simple temptations of hunger for 12 long years.
Sharmila, who began her fast unto death to protest against the killing of 10 persons in an alleged encounter with security forces in the year 2000, is routinely ‘arrested’, produced in court on charges of attempted suicide, besides being force fed (through a tube) in a hospital ward that has been converted into a prison cell.
The whole situation to me is bizarre, if not morally disturbing when I think of the state of the Indian democracy, the almost criminal negligence of the state and federal governments, the indifference of the Indian media in not finding her story sensational enough to focus their attention on, and just the fact that a human being could be subjecting herself to such physical torture for a larger social cause beyond any personal gain.
We know Mahatma Gandhi has fasted during his lifetime, for a larger good, but we do not know if he would have survived it for such a long period. More recently, we saw Gandhian and social activist Anna Hazare undertaking a fast to demand legislation against corruption, but we know he could not keep it up beyond a few days.
12 years is a long time. And to not have eaten for so long, it’s not even civilized anymore.
Someone, anyone who matters, please just let her eat.