Her stamina to endure pain and suffering has turned her into a legend of sorts in her homeland. For sixteen years she was on a hunger strike to protest the continuation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur. Although the strike didn’t force the end of the dreaded law, it made Irom Sharmila a household name in the region and beyond. And now she wants to be an “ambassador of peace.”
She has come to Kashmir and feels she could do her bit to further peace by engaging with the local people.
I am here to have dialogue with people and I won’t mind speaking to the Hurriyat leadership,” said Irom, adding, “I don’t want to have dialogue with India and Pakistan. I am not here for that. I am here as a brand ambassador of peace and I would like to hold talks with all the people here in Kashmir.”
Apart from the Hurriyat leaders, Irom says she wants to meet pellet victims, half widows, and Kashmiri Pandits. “The human rights violation in Kashmir is much more than we have in Manipur. In Manipur pellet guns are not used. I want to meet the victims of 2016 who were blinded. I have heard that a huge number of people were blinded, I want to know how they are living their lives,” she said.
Adding further, Irom said, “I met with the chief minister and asked to help the civilians who get injured in protests and she said she will. I also asked her to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir, because it has done a huge damage to Manipur, to which she said, ‘We are also the sufferers.”
Curiously her trip to Kashmir has been arranged by Sarhad Bhavan an NGO, which does programmes closely associated with the army. She said that she had come here as an ambassador of peace and she wanted to engage with the women of Kashmir whom she said were the worst sufferers in the past two decades. Gun is not the solutions to anything. Both the forces as well as people won’t achieve anything through violent peace, Irom says. “The killings should end. Both government and people should engage in talks. People here are very broken and alienated, as I saw in these days. I cannot give a solution in just my first visit, but all I would suggest is be non-violent and indulge in talks.”
Sharmila become the face of resistance after she started a fast on November 2, 2000 after the killing of ten civilians in the Malom town of Manipur by the government forces. In 2016, Sharmila ended her fast and vowed to enter politics to become the chief minister of Manipur with the aim of repealing AFSPA. However, she lost the election and quit politics.
“I have been fighting for AFSPA for 16 years and I want to continue my fight, and if I am able to help the people of Kashmir in some way, I will be happy. I met the chief minister; State women’s Commission’s Chairperson, Orphan girls and students of Islamic university of Kashmir and I am planning to meet more women in upcoming days. I want to hold talks with women here, who have being the worst sufferers and encourage and tell them to continue their resistance through non-violent means,” she said.