For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment
Truth seekers everywhere can only applaud Sharmila's conduct in these recent days. Sharmila is literally a prisoner of two jails: the state which has unjustly criminalized her for standing up against violence perpetrated in its name, and the prison of social concepts and norms of what is appropriate or not, in the minds of supporters around her, who have deified her, against her will.
Deification of people who use pure and noble means, is a natural tendency in the human breast. There is a universal inner recognition that the truth such people adhere to, is eternal, alone is real, and if need be, worth dying for. In Gandhi's time, world wide, he became identified with the universal ideals that he was wielding in an effort to transform himself and Indian society. Author Pearl S. Buck said of him:
``The name of Gandhi, even in his lifetime, has passed beyond the meaning of an individual to the meaning of a way of living in our troubled modern world. In the midst of unrestrained and evil force, what for me has been of the greatest significance is the reaffirmation of this way of living. I am glad to be able to say here, upon this page, that Mr. Gandhi’s steady persistence in his chosen way has given me, among millions of others, courage to resist, by that greatest of all resistances, unconquerable, unwavering personal determination, the growth of tyranny in the world.”i
Gandhi strove mightily to resist the deification that the world put upon him. He was able to keep his personal liberty sharp-edged, for its best purpose – his search for truth. Again and again he rejected the title of Mahatma, and the God-like status which was ascribed to him, by people who superimposed upon him, their own imagination of the pure ideals he followed and confused him with actually being them. Ten days before his death, he again said,
“I am not yet a Mahatma. If people call me a Mahatma, what is it to me? I am only an ordinary man.”ii
As an independent human being, Sharmila undertook her Fast, in obedience to her conscience. As the days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and now almost 1.5 decades, her personal reason – obedience to the truth within her – has been ursurped by family, supporters, and society, to the point where, she is expected to continue the Fast, no matter what.
When Sharmila began this effort, she was an unmarried woman, 28 years old. As time wore on, the public imagination began to deify her. She became idealized. Virginal, pure, self-sacrificing. No longer fully human – ½ god, for many. As rumours, fired with imagination, and concepts of ideals grew, watching her effort, she was depicted as a Goddess who has manifested as Sharmila, to save the Manipuri people. IRON IROM!
Now, thats really imaginative! No one saw her like this originally, when she single-mindedly began her effort. Many of her family members permanently deserted her, due to social status reasons then. But her continued unending effort, her inner strength, made this type of imaginative distortion, deification, superimposed upon her, seem justified.
Recently, her brother, Singhajit, seemed to reaffirm his belief that Sharmila's decision to Fast, is no longer hers, but that she is now a symbol of the finest aspirations of the people, which she must serve, saying to her:
“The sanctity of the cause that you have taken up, the honour of the land and the prestige of the people are far superior to the interest of the family."iii
Meanwhile, Sharmila has said again and again, that while she will not give up her effort, she is like all of us. And like all of us, she longs to live a simple normal life, without being punished and criminalized by the state for standing up for love as being the way human beings are supposed to relate to each other. She wants to marry, and enjoy the simple things of life that we all take for granted. Freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, being some of the most basic.
Gandhi was able to insistently keep his personal liberty to think and do as he chose. This included experiments with his brahmacharya at one phase in his quest for truth, and testing his own purity. Love wasn't even the issue. Fortunately, no one was hurt or exploited. Later he recognized his folly. But no one mentioned anything about `honor killing' of Gandhi for those acts.
But for Sharmila?
Our beloved world sister is facing innumerable obstacles. Last month, upon the orders of the Indian Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission of India finally went to Manipur and met with Irom Sharmila, other people, and groups. They concluded that Irom Sharmila's basic human rights were being denied, that she was being held and treated as a criminal, when she was not that, but a person in obedience to conscience. They recommended that she be given free access to visitors. The very least that can be done under such circumstances.
One would hope that such august recommendations would be immediately acted upon. But that is all that has happened so far. Meanwhile, November 5, 2013, Sharmila's 14th year of Fast has begun.
Somewhere around 3 years ago, through correspondence, Sharmila and a man named Desmond Coutinho felt a deep connection, and seem to have fallen in love with one another. Mr. Coutinho pledged his life, and all that he has to her help and cause. He is a social worker, of Indian origins, from UK and Africa. They have never had any sort of normal relationship, Sharmila is a State prisoner, they can at best meet in public courts. Sharmila announced to the world that he was her fiance: the boats began to rock.
Despite the fact that Irom Sharmila has independently taken on the awakening of the people in her prayerful Fast, and has done more than any man in Manipuri history for Peace, for Manipuri society, for which she was regaled as a Goddess, when it came to Coutinho, she is regarded as a woman, who is held subjected to all the culture bound conditioning that area holds. This includes, not being able or allowed to marry or associate with men whom the family disapproves of. Mr. Coutinho is one such association.
At what age can a woman be allowed to make her own choice? She's 42 now.
Shockingly, just two days ago, on her way to the fortnightly hearing, Sharmila declared to the press and NDTV that those who claimed to be her staunch supporters were threatening to `honour kill' her if she persists in her relationship with Coutinho. Worse, her brother, Singhajit, told the press that:
"I am a trustee member of the Just Peace Foundation, but let me speak in my capacity as the brother of Sharmila and not as a member of the JPF.
"As a brother, I had told Sharmila that if her affair with Desmond Coutinho is going to influence her and constrain her to change her stand, then I would be ready to sacrifice my role as a father to my children and spend the rest of my days in jail".iv
What does this mean? Is it a threat to Coutinho's life if Sharmila changes her mind about continuing the Fast? Is it a threat to Sharmila's? What is the normal legal proceeding when someone threatens a life? She is gentle. Like Gandhi, doesn't press charges.
What is amazing, is that when Sharmila undertook her Fast initially, which was to her DEATH, there was no uproar from society. Her effort was seen to be serving the ideals they all cherished. The message from her supporters seems to be, `We will hold you as a Goddess, whether or not you like it, but, if you step down from the pedestal we insist you stand on, we will kill you.'
The Rebelling Reluctant Goddess, is now becoming increasingly dismissed by her own supporters, publicly, in the press: It is alarming to note the new tones coming from the JPF- the Just Peace Foundation's statements about Irom Sharmila. In an interview,
``Sharmila also claimed her protest [...] has been hijacked by the very people in-charge of her campaign [the JPF]. The activist says she is not even allowed to donate money from her international prizes to causes like the Uttarakhand flash-floods tragedy.
In its defence, the organisation [JPF] says the primary problem is their communication gap, given the restrictions on meeting Irom Sharmila, who is under judicial custody in Manipur. Babloo Loitongbam of the Just Peace Foundation said, “Sometimes there is a tendancy to make a mountain out of a molehill.”v
What does this mean? Whose tendency? Where? Sharmila's? So, the activist that got all the money for the JPF, which doesn't listen to her about how to use that money; the activist who is insistent on stepping off the Goddess platform in her dedication to truth, and dared to fall in love with a foreigner, is now a hysterical, weak little woman, making mountains out of molehills?
``On Sharmila likening some of the people as the Taliban, Singhajit said it could be due to poor vocabulary on her part. "It was a family issue and blaming CSOs would be out of place and inappropriate," he added.vi
Because she seeks to keep what is left of her personal liberty clear of the webs of false concepts of ideals and imaginations in those around her, her words are now due to her `poor vocabulary', and `out of place' and `inappropriate.'
We haven't heard these dismissive statements before. Does Sharmila get to refute these charges coming from the second prison?
Let Sharmila meet Coutinho and get to know him, herself. She's 42 years old. And in so doing, maybe the family will get to know him too. If she breaks the engagement, or decides to marry, its her decision. No one questioned her maturity when she entered the Fast. But now, as the Goddess insistently steps down from the pedestal, her perception of reality is alluded to.
Here in Sweden, and many parts of the world, there is a rising distaste within the general population for immigrants coming with feudal mindsets, that would actually consider killing their female family members if they try to have relations or marry outside the fold. There have been several `honour killings', and the fact is, no matter how you try to wrap your mind around it, to kill someone, to take away their life, their experience on Earth, because you disagree with their views, whether by war, or sick concepts of family honour, is inhuman, and therefore, truly uncivilised.Disown if you want, but don't play God.
The forces for real law and order in India need to get right on this one. India looks more feudal than the stone ages.
iWilley, P.K. (2010) Earth Ethics of M.K Gandhi with teachings from Holy Mother Amma: an Introduction: 11
iiiThe Sangai Express. (Friday, November 8, 2013) TSE follows up on Honor Killing Threats Charge. Urs:http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/tseitm-32225-tse-follows-up-on-hono... As seen Nov. 10, 2013.
vThe Sangai Express. (Saturday, November 9, 2013) Faced Honour Threats, says Sharmila. Courtesy, NDTV. Url:http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/tseitm-32191-faced-honour-killing-t... As Seen Nov. 10, 2013.
viThe Sangai Express. (Friday, November 8, 2013) TSE follows up on Honor Killing Threats Charge.