The “other” Nobel Prize contender

The Indian press heaved a collective sigh of regret when Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Every newspaper and TV channel loves a good story, and Malala’s offered everything. A courageous girl ready to fight to death for her right to education, and a chance to gloat over Pakistan’s abysmal human rights record. All was well, except for one tiny matter that was washed over. One of the contenders for the Peace Prize was Indian, and surely as deserving to be called an apostle of peace. She was Irom Sharmila, who had been nominated for her twelve-year long fast to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, a draconian law that gives the armed forces immunity from prosecution in “disturbed” areas.

In a mindboggling case of lazy journalism, media houses in the country failed to highlight her nomination. It is true that Malala was one of the frontrunners and newspapers around the world championed her case, but surely, Ms. Sharmila deserved some recognition in her home country. Or is Irom Sharmila a name to be dredged up from memory only in the first week of March, when the Indian government releases her for a day and arrests her again?

Prior to the announcement, the Nobel Prize committee did not rule out her chances of winning the prize.

“I don’t want to rule her out. I think she could have a chance. But I don’t think India would be the main direction in which the committee will be looking this year,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, Director, Peace Research Institute Oslo, in an interview with IBN Live on October 11.

Amnesty International recently called for the charges against her to be dropped. “Irom Sharmila is a Prisoner of Conscience, who is being held solely for her peaceful expression of her beliefs,” said Shashikumar Velath of Amnesty International India on October 1, 2013. “Authorities must drop all charges against her, and release her immediately and unconditionally.”

On November 4, Ms. Sharmila will have completed thirteen years of her fast. In the process she has wrecked irreversible damage to her body.  Shoma Choudhary writes in an issue of Tehelka Magazine dated December 9, 2006: “Irom Sharmila, 34, has not eaten anything, or drunk a single drop of water for six years. Six years. She has been forcibly kept alive by a drip thrust down her nose by the Indian State. For six years, nothing solid has entered her body. Not a drop of water has touched her lips. She has not combed her hair. She cleans her teeth with dry cotton and her lips with dry spirit so she will not sully her fast. Her body is wasted inside. Her menstrual cycles have stopped. Yet she is resolute. Whenever she can, she removes the tube from her nose. It is her bounden duty, she says, to make her voice heard in the most reasonable and peaceful way.”

It has been seven years since the interview took place.  One can only wonder how her body has continued to hold on so long. November 2 will mark thirteen years since the Malom massacre, in which ten civilians were shot by Assam Rifles personnel while they were waiting at a bus stop; the horror of which inspired Ms. Sharmila to take up her struggle. Little has changed since then. Before throwing stones at another’s house, India would do well to remember her own shameful track record.

14 thoughts on “The “other” Nobel Prize contender

  1. ashwin says:

    I came to know about her from you only. It has been too long. It
    really saddened me when I came to know she had to postpone/sideline
    even the little light came her way for being the icon and face of the
    protest.
    But of course as always I can’t fully agree with you. Sathyagraha.. nobody gets beaten up, no blood spilled. Now consider a bloody Fightiing for right.. Chances are more ppl will look down upon somebody who is having a bloody fight to get rights. However aesthetic it is satyagraha is the worst ‘himsa’. Punishing & killing oneself because of somebody else was wrong?!! Is it logical to continue the fight same way when the opposition is not willing to admit their mistakes and change ways.. What’s your view about this? Enikku digest aavatha oru sambhavam aanu..

      • ashwin says:

        Its himsa because every living being has this natural tendency to fight for their life, self preservation. Nature’s design prioritises life of oneself before anything. When one is fasting unto death s/he is basically overriding that program which helped and continues to help living beings to thrive. So it finally comes to which code/rule book one is following, nature’s or society’s ?

  2. MANISH MANOHAR says:

    I was wondering when are you going to write about it and here you are .
    Always appreciate your pursuit for a cause.

  3. shailajasharma says:

    Lone warrior! There seems to be deliberate measure to keep her out of the public eye. Frankly I dint even know she was nominated for the nobel prize. I had only read a few stray articles on her struggle. Its sad to see news channels drumming up a regular bunch of cronies to debate everything possible under the sun, where the sole purpose seems to be to create a tamasha, for us spectators. While struggles like these are dying a slow unsung death. Thank you for speaking up for her..

  4. Desmond Coutinho says:

    There are many things that are not known about Sharmila. I am her fiance. Her brother was told to make a death threat of honor killing against her unless she disowned me. We have never sought marriage until the satyagraha is over but Manipuri is a sham state. They were using her in so many ways. You will not find the accusation made by Sharmila anywhere most people refused to publish it. But you will find sometimes very detailed defences by Irom Singhajit alluding to his original threat. It’s not considered a big deal in India to murder a relative on the grounds of honor. So another reason India doesn’t talk about their treatment of women in general. As for the Nobel. It would be great for her to be offered it but as you say it won’t happen. She has made it very clear that she doesn’t want prizes or awards and she will graciously refuse any farther attempts to grant her any. In the past her brother and some local mafia groups went around the world collecting prizes for her. Now they have little right to do so. I expect if it were to happen the publicity would come from her informing the Committee that while she was very honored that they felt the lives of Manipuris was worth defending. For now it is not illegal for paramilitaries to rape gang rape extort money kidnap or murder Manipuris they have sworn to defend and until the AFSPA goes from Manipur it remains perfectly legal for a paramilitary to do whatever he pleases while on patrol there. But she would politely let them know she didn’t want an empty chair or to wait to collect the huge amount of money they were offering and all the prestige that goes with it. She would ask them to give it to someone else. It’s not that she is rich its that she doesn’t want the money. She isn’t afraid of the death threats from her brother which come from local mafia groups anyway. And as for the himsa charge. I have no intellectual interest in the argument but I suggest people look at the case of the Roman Catholic Priest who took the place of a family man when the Nazis wanted a body to murder. It wasn’t ruled as himsa either. The Roman Catholic Church believed at the time that suicide was the most terrible type of sin yet they made the priest a Saint. If people want to discuss why let them do so. But I am not interested in arguing with Indians who have forgotten the satyagraha of the Mahatma Gandhi because it just leads to another argument that Gandhi-ji was not a liberator of India. India’s past has become far more unpredictable than its future. Irom Sharmila Chanu, Human Rights Defender, Security Ward, Jawaharlal Nehru I M S, Porompat, Imphal East, Manipur 795005 India. I send her books and letters. Manipuris send her hate mail and death threats. Thank you for writing about her. Oh by the way she never takes out the feeding tube. If she did that there is some kind of medical trauma that would have occurred leading to her death. What happens is that the tube is in two parts one down the oesophagus and one attached to the nose. She removes the latter or it is removed during her annual release in March by the authorities. To stop it swaying in the wind I guess. I know her and she trusts me to speak for her. But there is an awful lot of rubbish written about her in the interweb. Thank you for writing about her. I think it would be helpful to get her to Dehli for trial her next trial date is 29 march. But the authorities seem to agree with me hence they won’t send her. perhaps they can be embarrassed for what the NHRC has described as a concerted plan to humiliate and degrade her using mental and emotional torture to break her spirit by the illegal isolation order. They haven’t actually followed upon that. But this is India. Nobody seems troubled by the honor killing threat either.

    • Cinthya says:

      Thank you for your comments. I agree that there are a lot of lies and misinformation on the internet about Ms. Sharmila, but I don’t know how you’re helping her cause by dismissing Meira Paibis and the people close to her. Could you provide some proof of your allegations?

  5. ashwin says:

    Dear Desmond,

    I’m really sorry if I hurt your feelings. I am a great believer of jain principle anekatwa / multisidedness. So I just let people see the another view of the same, especially this one.

    But If you see priorities as a nation, I have to say just repealing AFSPA is not the solution. It can be repealed only when it can be convinced intervention of armed forces is not required any longer for peace keeping, well keeping it together. And we both know its not there yet.

    I revere gandhi more as I grow up, what indians lacked (and still lack) is unity. If all people come together and there is common-ness of purpose there is nothing that can’t be acheived (Precisely what gandhi tried with his movements and was successful to an extent). It asks for a multi-pronged approach locally, and that has not happened as of yet. Meira Paibis happened, this will also happen.

  6. Desmond Coutinho says:

    Dear Ashwin, I won’t produce tendentious arguments about the AFSPA. I want to marry Sharmila and live with her in obscurity. I will point out both the Indian Government doesn’t care about our opinion. It has initiated several judicial commissions to look into the matter and each one has ruled either the law should go or be at least modified. If they ignore jurists why would they care about our opinions no matter how clever we believe. The British Army who aren’t very nice when they occupy countries didn’t need the AFSPA to patrol northern ireland neither do the Indian Army. They did bring it in as the AFSOA but it would have been far too draconian to use against their own people. Which is by the way the reason the Army don’t want it for use against the so called greatest threat to the Republic the Naxalites. I do despise the usurpation of hte Meira Paibi tradtion. Are you talking about the women who paraded a 16 year old special needs girl after she had been raped stripped her shaved her head in public and surrounded her calling her a whore. Because that’s some of the stuff they do these days now they have police and security force backing. It’s not a new technique Julius Caesar before he tried to end the Republic in Rome got the support of the Vestal Virgins. Same old farts different dress. At least these days the Paibis keep their clothes on they just strip other women. Unity is important but so is justice. Sharmila is hopeful that the recent what is termed civil society group initiative will lead to AFSPA removal. I regret I am more cynical about these disgusting people who surround her. They have the forgotten the face of their ancestors. You want my opinion since nobody else is listening or cares. The world is as it is. And I am not some do gooder in particular need of saving it. A religious fascist leader of which India has many will arise and transform the northeast. It won’t happen this year but mid-term. He’ll repeal it by 2017 midterm for the nationals and in the run up to the State Elections. It just so happens he will be prepared either to buy our or kill the stooges of the former ruling party. There is no war in Manipur. Just a bunch of sick gangsters raping their own people. I liken her to Jesus, the Buddha and Gandhi-ji but in the way Hemmingway did. You have to throw the fundamentalists. My joke and it is a joke is that the fundamentalist Xtian preachers of Manipur the home grown ones were the drug addict sons of the ruling famlies. They don’t do rehab in Manipur they send them out to get a Doctorate in Bible Studies. The truth is stranger. There is no war in Manipur. You people confuse it with J&K. And like I said I am not a do gooder. I don’t care how many women get raped in J&K. Your country your rules. Change is coming because things always change. I feel so sorry for her but you can google the Hemmingway. The world will break her, the world breaks all the good the wise the courageous and those it cannot break it kills. And if you have none of these qualities it will kill you also but it will be in no special hurry. Go back to sleep brother. She has got me so far as to put my trust in God alone. Now I am just praying God might actually exist. It’s a disgusting place Manipur. You have no idea what is actually going on there. But it’s not your fault.

  7. Desmond Coutinho (@desmondcoutinho) says:

    Cynthia I believe the truth is important. The going rate for a meira paibee to throw a hand grenade was 5-10K rupees. Manipuri scribes give me the information. Everybody seems to know what they get up to. And what would you do with the proof. Recently one meira paibee cleared Ibobi Singh and his nephew of drug running. The stripping and shaving of a special needs rape victim was widely reported in manipur go use google. They added stories then that the Paibees regularly vented their spleen taking out prostitutes while leaving the pimps alone. As a group they worship one Mr Babloo Loitongbam who has for long instructed the HRLN who supposedly represent Sharmila in Delhi to keep her isolated in Imphal. By the people close to her you mean who exactly her brother who made the death threat against her or Babloo Loitongbam who ordered the killing and paid him the 3 lacs to do it. All a matter of record. I believe by exposing their death threats, their policy of isolation, their fake campaigns that have brought no change that I work for the truth. If you don’t like the truth this is your web page which few read anyway. Why do you people fear the truth. You tell me how you help any but the insidious corrupt families who run Manipur by refusing to speak for Sharmila. I have a 5,800 word article written by Sharmila checked by the Hindu, bowlderized by Urvaishi the head of Zubaan is she dead I read somewhere that she is now. But none is interested in her story. Some ask to read it then pass it on to the local security forces because informing on others is the only real northeastern culture I have seen. I give out to the mafia families. And I come to manipur each year and the disgusting cowards have never had the courage to kill me. They threaten only to abuse rape or otherwise inconvenience any manipuri who might associate with me or protect Sharmila. The Meira Paibees were the official reason for Sharmila in her words being treated like a goat at the last judicial hearing she had when I was in Imphal 3 January. You can read different versions of what happened in the manipuri press. Two mayang scribes were present but they chose not to report it. but the Paibees were the tinsel. The evening before officers from Imphal East police station visited the JNIMS and threatened the nurses and other IPS officers who were due to bring Sharmila to court the next morning that if we allowed to meet they would have consequences. They can rape and murder in Imphal without the protection of the AFSPA if you want proof go read either of the two recent reports Santosh Hedge fully published and the NHRC report which is harder to find. The proof is there but nothing happens. The Loitongbam family used to run the police force there is loads of proof against them. If anyone is serious about sorting out the problems of Manipur then all they have to do is declare direct presidential rule and because the interests of justice require proof as you say. India is a civilized country not a banana republic. Then bring in tax accountants. They do not hide their wealth those around Sharmila. 60 million rupees of her prize money disappeared in less than 3 years no receipts no explanations. One of the odder things left over is 6 lacs for a peace village (homestead) I have never heard of it neither had any Manipuri scribe who was prepared to meet with me in secret because they are too frightened to talk to me openly. Just one of those bullshit things. But as you are into proof. File tax demands. If they have all these assets, houses ,cars impressive lifestyles those close to Sharmila as you say. Why haven’t they paid any taxes on the money. You don’t have to find out where it came from just why no tax. If they pay the tax then issue another demand. Because obviously if they paid the tax they must have had more money and where was the tax for that lot. When they finally refuse to pay their taxes. There is usually a jail term for non-payment of taxes. Just make separate charges for each tax return and get a judge under the direct presidential rule thing to sentence consecutively. But if you have reports of a genuine meira paibee getting her son off drugs and alcohol then i fully support that woman. I am the only person who knows her and tells the truth about her. But by all means if you have some actual information then offer it.

  8. ashwin says:

    Bro.. When I wrote ” It really saddened me when I came to know she had to postpone/sideline even the little light came her way for being the icon and face of the
    protest.” I meant you. And Cinthya, She really cares. Thats why she did whatever she did. And rather intensely, Actually I made fun of her when she spoke about it in such an intense way. I didn’t know about Irom then, but slowly but steadily people are taking notice.

    Frankly speaking very little news reaches outside and no guarantee about its trust-worthiness. So when somebody is contradicting what we came to know, its natural to ask for proof.

    Honestly what you expect from manipur-people? She is the face of their struggle against AFSPA. If you take her away and she deserts the movement everything is lost from their view point. I’m sure you are some Indian Govt agent who came to overthrow their movement in their eyes!

    I’m really sorry bro if all you told is true, only she can help herself by letting people know the truth and what she wants.

    And why we would be afraid of truth? We are young and naive.

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