Save Sharmila's Life

In Response to ‘‘Humanity in Prison’’-II

I Mallikarjuna Sharma

Nowadays Hunger strikes are broken forcibly by the State authorities after they reach certain days beyond which the lives of the strikers would be in definite danger. It was not always so. There was a time when conscientious hunger strikers were allowed to continue their fast for as many days as they wanted and were also allowed to die. The hunger strike of Potti Sriramulu who died for the sake of Andhra State is an example. He fasted for about 58 days, his fast was not interfered with though many eminent persons appealed to him to give up and finally he died in the intervening night of 15-16 December 1952 and that 'sacrifice' generated lot of wrath and discontent among the people against the government, violent attacks were made on state properties, resulted in police firings in which a number of agitators died, and finally Nehru had to declare the formation of an Andhra State —though not per the wishes of Potti Sriramulu who wanted Madras to be given to Andhra or serve as a common capital at least. Many leaders of the Punjabi Suba also fasted for weeks together without police intervention. But times and methods have changed now and generally after a week or ten days state authorities intervene, arrest the hunger striker and forcibly feed him. Their concern is that the person should not die —in his own interest as also in the interest of the public and the state because his death may give rise to violent agitations and confrontations. Unless the Government feels the resistance by people supporting the hunger striker would be ferocious and may result in more anarchy and violence in case forcible arrest and shifting the fasting person to isolation are attempted, they would normally prefer to and do arrest and keep the person in custody and force feed him. This measure has its own pros and cons. While it is certainly regrettable that a person has no right to fast per his wishes as long as he wants, it is also salutary in that such an important or sacrificing person's life is saved by such intervention. It may be true Irom Sharmila did not attempt suicide but wanted to pressurize the government to bow down to her demands but if she were left free to fast without intervention, there is no doubt she would have been dead and out long back. So governmental repression in her case becomes savior of her life. And her prolonged force fed hunger strike has now brought to focus her demand all over India so much so that even the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee recommended the abolition or non-implementation of AFSPA. Several eminent social activists and political leaders have taken note of her efforts and sacrifice and an all India Committee is also formed to press for her demands.

In such a background this writer strongly feels that Irom Sharmila should forthwith give up her hunger strike and join the mainstream of life. She has done her job quite well and influenced lakhs if not crores of people to sympathetically consider her demand. Now it is for her to return to family and personal life, get well, participate in day to day activities of an active person and if desired do social work and service joining politics—politics of a different type—to serve the people and uplift the society. There is no use or need for her to continue this force fed fast any more and if she is left free she knows she will certainly die within a few days of stopping forced feeding. Her death may generate anger, anarchy and violence among the people but will not fetch any tangible good results. Her life on the contrary can do good to her own self, her family and also to the society at large. But she has to take a quick decision because any further delay can take her health condition to a point of no return. Also there is no point in or need for harping on prestige or shame or humiliation etc. that without achieving the demands she could not give up and declare her defeat to the world, etc. Her struggle so far itself is a clear victory of hers. So one can hope not against hope that Irom Sharmila would seriously consider these suggestions and appeal, and give up the fast immediately and return to normal life.

Vol. 47, No. 16, Oct 26 - Nov 1, 2014