Irom Sharmila, who has been accused of taking a “unilateral” decision to end her 16-year-old fast against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), is facing resentment both from her community as well as her family members. 

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian over telephone from Imphal, her elder brother, Irom Shinghajit, who had stood by her through thick and thin during the past 16 years, expressed his unhappiness with his sister’s decision to end her fast after the long struggle.

“The announcement of her decision to end her fast without consulting the people of Manipur is her biggest mistake and this is why she has lost the connect she had with people. She has broken her promise that she had made to the people of Manipur and her mother,” Shinghajit said, recalling that as a young child, she was the favourite of her neighbours and she had the “spark to serve society since her childhood”.

 She started to learn about AFSPA during her days in high school and it was on 2 November 2000, when some troopers from the Assam Rifles gunned down 10 civilians waiting for a bus in a village on the outskirts of Imphal, that Sharmila was provoked to go on an indefinite fast. “She had announced her decision to go on an indefinite fast on 5 November that year, but was arrested the next day. When I met her after that, I suggested her to withdraw her fast as the police had already raided our house and beaten our brothers and sisters, but she said, ‘Dada, I am a Manipuri girl and I would fight till the end’ and as an elder brother, I had supported her throughout,” Shinghajit said. 

Sharmila has expressed her desire to contest the state Assembly elections. However, Shinghajit is not supportive of her decision. He said, “I do not understand politics and I would never join politics even if my sister forms her own party. But here I would also like to say that she would never win if she independently contests the elections.” Shinghajit is also apprehensive of the entry of Desmond Coutinho, a Goa-born British national, into Sharmila’s life and believes that Desmond is a “planted” agent of the government to “dilute” her movement against AFSPA. “I had met Desmond only once and I did not like his attitude. He is very overpowering. My friends say that he is a RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent who came into Sharmila’s life mysteriously to play the role of her lover to dilute her fight and attention for the cause she had given up her life for,” Shinghajit said.

 Asked whether he believes in this theory, he said “I do not know; as a brother, I am not being able to make up my mind. But certain things make me suspicious like the superintendent of police, jail circle, Imphal, allowing Desmond to give a laptop to Sharmila inside jail; she was even allowed a mobile when with Desmond.” 

Shinghajit said that Sharmila should apologise to the people of Manipur for her “unilateral decision”.  “It was not her fight alone, her fight was for society, for the people of Manipur and they should have been consulted, at least those who had supported her for all these years. She did not even tell her family members about her decision. I am sure if she says sorry to the people for not consulting them, they would embrace her again.”

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