Various shades of Irom Sharmila, The Rights Activist

Shougrakpam Ratnamani Singh *

Irom Sharmila produced before Judicial Magistrate Imphal East Court (JMIC), Lamphelpat :: 19 Sep 2014
Irom Sharmila on 19 Sep 2014 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Irom Sharmila has been synonymous with the struggle against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 for more than one & a half decades as she has dedicated a major part of her life in her struggle to get the "draconian Act" repealed through perhaps the longest hunger strike in the annals of history. Her struggle has made her one of the "celebrity activists" in the country. She arguably is the most popular Manipuri in the country everyone who is somebody seems to have heard about her and her epic struggle; even the people in the country who do not know where Manipur is seem to have heard of her fasting.

In a world that is always looking for excitements and sensational news, she is a good news fodder for the news hungry media she is a news maker, not necessarily by her choice.

Her hunger strike, her forced nose feeding, her court appearances including the ones in New Delhi allegedly for her attempt to commit suicide at Jantar Mantar, her decision to join politics and form her political party, her electoral fight and 'historic defeat' with 90 votes in her name, her love affairs (or love jihad?), her differences with 'Meira Paibis' or with her family, her intention of not returning to Manipur but of settling down at Kodaikanal - a hill town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu - as she feels betrayed by her own people in the recent State Assembly elections, her impending court marriage with her British boyfriend Desmond Coutinho who is allegedly 'a Manipur hater' and the frivolous petition by a "nameless" attention seeker against it - all these and more have made news!


Her decision to end her epic fast and join politics by contesting in the last State Assembly elections came as a big surprise. However, it was welcome by many people. Yes, there were several others who strongly felt that it would be a fallacy and she was not cut out for politics.

Would any sensible human being want another human being to continue fasting for so long like she did? So, it was natural that many felt happy that she ended her fast even though they perhaps had their own reservations about her joining politics simply because they loved her, cared for her; her decision to join politics was not seen by many as a right move.

Rightly, many felt that she had every right to start leading a normal life; she had without an iota of doubt contributed so much singlehandedly against the AFSPA. Yes, there were perhaps some people with vested interests who were not happy with her decision to end the fast but they were also helpless; the choice was hers and they perhaps would/could not compel her to change her stand.

Just because someone is extraordinary in one field, does that mean that they will be successful in another field? Won't it be presumptuous on one's part to think that just because one is a renowned rights activist or for that matter, that one has done so much for their people in a field, they will also do well in politics?

Undoubtedly, politics and activism are different ball games altogether and they do not have everything in common. There is no guarantee that a very successful rights activist, for instance, will make a very successful politician. Yes, one may quickly ask as to why someone like Ms. Sharmila could not become a successful politician given that several of our successful politicians are uneducated, criminals, misogynists, corruptionists, et al. That is the unfathomable mystery of the game of politics!


Ms. Sharmila, the activist, was determined, resolute and willing to give up everything including food and she did not need to be very articulate because everyone knew that the AFSPA was a "draconian Act". Her hunger strike was enough to send the desired messages against the Act she did not need many words to do the talking. And most importantly, she had the blessings and support of the public for standing up against the Act that they thought was unjust. Perhaps, many people even benefitted from her struggle that they saw her as a means to achieve their ends and it was perhaps a symbiotic relationship both parties benefitted from each other. To put it simply, she had the desired resources as a rights activist.

Ms. Sharmila, the politician albeit for a brief period, did not have many things that Ms. Sharmila, the activist, had. She did not have the mass public support; she did not have enough political resources including the financial resource; she was not articulate enough to share her political vision to all if she had any vision at all; she was perhaps expecting an easy victory which did not materialise; she was not clearly focussed on fighting to win but on putting up a symbolic fight as seen in her decision to contest against the then Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in his bastion; she did not have the desired patience to stick to the fight but was too willing to accept her defeat and give up; she was too willing to blame the people for her political defeat; perhaps she and the media assumed that the whole Manipuri public had rejected her not realising that she could not garner enough votes in one constituency and that the verdict was not of the whole Manipuri people.

If one goes by the media reports, even now she seems to be unable to come to terms with her electoral defeat; she has not stopped blaming the whole Manipuri public for her defeat and it seems that she is still filled with bitterness even though she has started living in a far-off land away from Manipur. Is it a common human nature to forget to count the blessings in disguise that they have got in their lives and the invisible hands that have supported them directly or indirectly?


Recently, she has been frequently in the news for her proposed impending court marriage with her British boyfriend Desmond Coutinho. They seem to be enjoying all the attention and celebrating the same. Yes, that is great but one is pained when she gives the impression that her own people have betrayed her - this will be a thankless gift from her side to the people who have stood by her through thick and thin, at least, in her struggle as a rights activist. One wishes her a fairytale marriage and a life full of happiness thereafter too in fact, she deserves it so much, she has endured so much.


The so-called her political party, the Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), is not hers only the sweats of several known and unknown individuals have gone into making the edifice of the party. Yes, she remains to be the most recognizable face of the party and the national media takes the liberty of calling the party hers. However, the main architect of the party is none other than Erendro Leichombam, Convener PRJA, a young man with full of beautiful dreams.

Mr. Erendro is an educationist and entrepreneur. He holds an MA in Economic Policy from Harvard University, Cambridge. He did his undergraduate B.A (Liberal Arts) from Soka University, California. He was a World Bank Fellow (2010-2013), and a Consultant with UNDP (Dhaka), and is Associate professor of Economics and Co-Founder of Pragati School of Management in Guwahati. He, undoubtedly, is a man on a big mission of taking the State to new heights by serving its people in a way that they have never thought possible.

A glimpse of the PRJA's website will reveal enough clues about the architect(s) of the party and their admirable visions. Yes, Manipur is changing and younger generation leaders have clearly decided to take the bull by the horns. So, one is very optimistic that, with or without Ms. Sharmila, the party is going to grow unstoppably and hopefully, it will bear the desired fruits one day for all to eat them!

* Shougrakpam Ratnamani Singh wrote this article for
The author lives and works in New Delhi. The views expressed here in this article are personal.
The writer can be contacted at ratnamanisingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on July 18, 2017.

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