There is heavy police presence on both sides of the road. Barricades are in place to ensure that no one can come into Manipur House, located in the capitals Chanyakapuri locality, without permission. The heavy Delhi Police bandobast outside is supplemented by state police sprawled across the lobby inside the building.

All this is to ensure that Manipur’s human rights icon Irom Sharmila does not address students who wish to meet her. Not that the students are organising a protest. The authorities just will not allow the young people, several students from JNU, be anywhere near the premises. Nobody can answer the simply question: why? “Orders from the authorities,” they say. Which authorities? Who in authority? There is no answer from the plain clothes policemen swarming the building.

Irom Sharmila in a file photo. ReutersIrom Sharmila in a file photo. Reuters

Irom Sharmila in a file photo. Reuters

Irom Sharmila is frail. She has a ready smile and speaks softly. She is in a happy mood, with the Delhi Court acquiting her in a 2006 attempt to suicide case. She is being forcibly fed through a nasal tube, and has several other similar cases against her in Manipur. “Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, had resorted to fasts while making certain demands,” she said in court earlier while justifying her fast. “Since there is no meaning of true democracy in the country, human rights activists should join hands. The matter should be brought to the attention of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.”

She is determined to continue her fast until the government relents and lifts the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives extraordinary power to the security forces and provides them impunity against civilian courts. The determination comes through in her interaction. She makes it clear that she wants to live, she wants to do all the normal things, but only after AFSPA is lifted from Manipur. She is not at all bitter, not against the authorities who have done this to her. She says her fight is not against any individual but against the ‘Black Act’. She is almost spiritual in her approach and has love for people, including her tormentors. She has a special place in her heart for the young people of Manipur and the youth across the country.

Q: It seems you want to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Why? Do you think he will understand your plight and help your cause?

A: Yes I want to meet Prime Minister Modi. My presence will have an impact on him. I mean I shall explain my position and say why it is important to lift the draconian AFSPA which has no place in a democracy. I am quite certain the Prime Minister will understand. My soul is pure and he will know I have no ulterior motives. If a person is sensitive he will understand what I am fighting for.

Q: The Prime Minister is a busy man, do you think he will spare the time to meet you?

A: I hope he will.

Q: Do you think the Prime Minister is sensitive?

A: I don’t know yet, will know after I meet him.

Q: It has been 16-years since you went on fast, but it has made no impact. The AFSPA has not been lifted. You have various cases against you. You are being force fed. In the meantime life is passing you by. Everyone else is leading their life as they please. You are suffering. Has it been worthwhile to continue this fast?

A: I don’t agree with you. I am fighting for the people. Our people are suffering because the security forces can do what they please with impunity. People know that I am fighting for the right cause, for them, in the only way I can. I am not doing this for personal gain. It is not that people don’t care, but they don’t know how to help at the moment. Young people across Manipur are supporting me. I have influenced them, and they know that it is right to fight for principles. I am convinced that I will finally have my way. The struggle has been worth it. I have no regrets.

Q: Do you think the time has come to re-think your strategy. You can fight for lifting the AFSPA by other means? So far you have hurt only yourself.

A: I don’t see it that way. I think I am slowly but surely succeeding. Look what happened today. The judge quashed the case and acquitted me. The judgement upheld the Constitution. The court saw the reality of the situation that was a big achievement. I am happy.

Q: In neighbouring Tripura, AFSPA was lifted, because Chief Minsiter Manik Sarkar worked for it. Can’t that be replicated in Manipur?

A: Manipur is not Tripura. I will achieve what I have set out to do. We have to remain united and persevere, that’s the only way. Happily I see there is a change in people’s perception. As I said before the court judgement today is a step in the right direction. I expect something else will happen tomorrow. Change comes with patience. I am now at the peak of my struggle and I see hope at the end of the tunnel. Things are changing, awareness spreading.

Q: Who do you hold responsible for AFSPA – the army, the state government or the Centre?

A: All three are responsible. The collective voice of the people should be raised against governments that use violence and religious beliefs to divide society. India cannot progress unless we change our system. The country will remain as it is now – poor and torn by conflict where nobody is happy. I want to talk to the Prime Minister and make him understand the hollowness of our system, where we cannot spread the happiness index.

Q: Are you aware of what is happening in JNU? What are your views.

A: Let the young be fearless and ask questions. It is the youth that always challenges the status-quo. They are bright and have the right to raise their concerns. Without an enquiring mind how can the human race progress? Why should the young not be revolutionary? The students must continue to question authorities and bring in change. Change is at the heart of human progress.

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‘I’m slowly but surely succeeding, perseverance the only way’: Iron lady Irom Sharmila isn’t backing down