Her 16-year-long fight against the Draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is part of civil rights folklore in India. Irom Chanu Sharmila, popular as Iron Lady, ended her struggle last year and married her long-time friend Desmond Coutinho. My City Links caught up with the woman who not only redefined ‘iron’ but also redrew the boundary for women power in the country. Excerpts from the interview
During your long tenure of hunger strike, you got immense support from your family members and people of Manipur. But the moment you decided to call off your fast, everyone started opposing you. Did it break you emotionally?
It is the nature of the society - love and attachment fades away with the course of time. It doesn’t matter to me anymore, we came alone and will depart alone. At that time, I thought fasting was the best method to raise my voice against injustice done to the people of Manipur in the name of AFSPA Act. When I realised that the path I chose is not bringing any change, I decided to choose some other method to raise my voice. I decided to stand in the election and I was confident that people would support me and make me their representative by giving me power to lead the state. Instead of supporting my decision, they went against me. It was emotionally a very tough time for me. The whole episode made me realise that people have different mindset and they would judge you on that basis only.
After receiving lots of opposition and your defeat in the election, you left Manipur. Are you still in touch with your family members?
When I left my home, seeking blessings from my mother, my attachment with my family members vanished. I don’t miss them or feel anything for them, but I contact my mother often as she is like a living God to me.
Your husband Desmond Coutinho has been a big support for you. How important is his role in your life?
I have vowed to spend my life with him, he is now my other half. Without him, I can’t imagine my life. He is one of the persons who inspired me to call off my fast. He has always been there and constantly gives me strength to believe that people would change their opinion one day.
Picture Courtesy: Zee News India
But wasn’t your marriage with Desmond Coutinho opposed by your family and people of Manipur? What was your reaction then?
I did expect some support from my family members as I was starting a new journey, but its fine as I believe that they would change their opinion one day and accept Desmond as a member of our family.
You were young when you decided to sit on a hunger strike. Did you ever expect that your fast would continue so long?
No, I never expected that I would end up spending 16 years of my life fasting. I followed the path of Gandhi ji. I didn’t realise that time has changed and now fasting won’t help you to achieve anything. During my 16 years fast, I had just surrendered to the will of God and hoped to see the change. I had a vision for better and peaceful environment in Manipur, so I dedicated my life to the people of Manipur. I guess my fasting failed to raise the conscience of the government and it didn’t convince them enough to take strong action repelling AFSPA.
Picture Courtesy: lh3.googleusercontent.com
You have settled in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. Do you miss Manipur and do you have any plans to stand in next general election?
Honestly, I don’t miss anything anymore. As of now I don’t want to go back to Manipur. The election result has devastated me, so whether to stand in next election or not, is a big question for me.
What are your future plans?
I am an activist and I would continue to fight for rights of people. We can work for better society through many ways. Youth are the future of the nation. I would like to work with them and motivate them to bring a change in the society.
Feature Image Courtesy: India.com