The news this morning that Irom Sharmila, that indefatigable campaigner against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) had been released, with the court stating that the police cannot rearrest her, came as some good news after a long week of terrible developments. But by later in the day it was clear, that nothing has changed. Sharmila is determined to fast and has said so. And the police has once again arrested her, according to the latest reports.
Much has been written about this "Iron Lady". I too have written about her (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Kalpana_Sharma/i-am-sharmila/article4515503.ece?homepage=true) and met her briefly in 2009 in Imphal when the same drama of release and rearrest took place. She is a person one cannot forget -- frail yet strong, smiling through the pain visible in her eyes, and determined in a way one has never seen before. It makes you feel humbled, even over-awed.
But we cannot stop at admiration. The cause for which she is prepared to inflict such suffering on herself is one that should be a concern for all of us, even if we are not subject to the draconian AFSPA that has made life a hell for people in Manipur. The demand for its withdrawal should not be limited to the people living under it. All of us who care for a just society, where abitrary powers are not placed in the hands of people with no respect for human rights, must oppose AFSPA.
In the meantime, we wait and watch. Will someone listen -- anyone? To quote what I wrote earlier:
"What will it take for the deafness of the government, and its obduracy, to give way to a listening ear and an open mind on the issue? How many Sharmilas will it take? Should all of us who care, who feel outraged at this state of affairs, decide to become Sharmilas?"