Popularly known as the ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’. The activist-turned-politician Irom Sharmila gave birth to twin girls in May in Bengaluru this year. Since then the 44-year-old, who is known for her 16-year hunger strike against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA in Manipur, and husband Desmond Coutinho, a British national, have been busy being a family, away from the past, away from the limelight. She began the hunger strike when she was 28-years-old.

SheThePeople.TV catches up with Irom Sharmila to discuss her life after the big decision of breaking her fast. Her twins, Nix Shakhi and Autumn Tara were also present to give their mother company! Desmond chose the name Nix, which is Latin for snow. He wanted her to be cool and calm like the snow, according to Sharmila. Their second daughter has been named after a Buddhist goddess, the female reincarnation of the Buddha.

Away From Brutality And Violence, The Iron Lady Embracing Blissful Motherhood Now
The Iron Lady feeding her baby during the interview with SheThePeople.TV

Oh, it made a huge impact on everything surrounding me! This is a new life, a new beginning for me. Being a mother I embraced the kinder, softer side of me. It gave a whole new perspective to life.

For years you were force fed through a nasal tube against your will. Can you tell us of your decision to go on a fast and what made you decide to give up the fast?

I gave up on the fast because I wanted to. No one compelled me to go on a hunger strike then, and no one was behind my decision when I broke it off 16 years later. It was my conscience. It’s not true that it was a burden or punishment. I am aged and I thought it was time for me to step out.

Getting back to a regular life after years of being force fed, being under confinement, how difficult was the transition?

When I meet young people they feel somewhat puzzled around me. They ask me only one question – 16-long-years of hunger strike and surviving it, how did you do it? The decision I took was a result of my demand to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. I wanted to become Manipur’s chief minister so that I could repeal the contentious AFSPA. I felt positive in my guts. I trusted that people would follow me like they followed Gandhiji’s non-violent way of seeking justice. And, many of them did stand beside me! And, I knew I won’t die. It was necessary for someone to voice up.

Irom Sharmila
Irom Sharmila

They arrested me alleging that I was trying to commit suicide and forced fed me through my nose. It was a difficult time when someone had taken away my right to even take a decision of not eating for a cause. That feeling made me realise that now more than ever I’d not give up. It enraged certain section of people; a barrage of criticism was unleashed on me. Various violent encounters took place but I was determined to keep on going. I was not eating but kept my body and mind in balance throughout.

I gave up on the fast because I wanted to. No one compelled me to go on a hunger strike then, and no one was behind my decision when I broke it off 16 years later. It was my conscience.

READ: Six Things You Need to Know about Irom Sharmila

Now that I am trying to get back my life to normalcy, comparing the two periods of my life, I only remember the good part of it. It wasn’t easy coming back to normal life after 16 years. Yes, the non-eating part was often unhealthy. My taste buds were off. I didn’t even get an off-period from breaking the hunger strike to being pregnant. But things are looking up now.

Irom Sharmila Iron Lady
Embracing motherhood

You faced a lot of resistance and flak when you abandoned your fast. What were your emotions when the people you had fought for turned on you for wanting to live a normal life?

I was determined that it’s my life. And, nobody can force me do anything I didn’t want to do. I am the master of my own destiny. I would make my own history. Others have no say in this. I took a bold step by going in for the hunger strike; I am glad that I decided to break it. I am still deciding my ‘life’.

Accepting motherhood in my late 40s, I transferred my unfulfilled wish into bringing up my two kids for a better future. Tomorrow they might achieve greater heights.

How did the fact that you got such few votes when you contested the elections impact you?

I won’t lie, it was surprising to see the less number of votes since so many people actually supported me then. The negative reaction after the polling is what’s wrong with the society. People are given a choice to choose the right person to represent them. But despite knowing what’s right for their future they always choose the wrong person. The present situation in the whole of North-East is the result of their trust in wrong people.

Also Read: Eye on Imphal: The Irom Sharmila story

As a woman in politician, what do you think you bring to the table that other politicians don’t?

Though I thought I could be but I actually don’t qualify as a politician. Ideally, the field is not suitable for me.

Away From Brutality And Violence, The Iron Lady Embracing Blissful Motherhood Now
Away violence, The Iron Lady embraces motherhood.

Motherhood, how does it influence your thought process now?

Oh, it made a huge impact on everything surrounding me! This is a new life, a new beginning for me. Being a mother I embraced the kinder, softer side of me. It gave a whole new perspective to life.

I took a bold step by going in for the hunger strike; I am glad that I decided to break it. I am still deciding my ‘life’.

Celebrating the birth of my twins is great but because they are twins it’s hard sometimes. I am quite excited to see where this journey would lead me. Accepting motherhood in my late 40s, I transferred my unfulfilled wish into bringing up my two kids for a better future. Tomorrow they might achieve greater heights. I just want them to have a good violent-free future where such brutality, evil bureaucracy doesn’t exist.

Irom Sharmila
Irom Sharmila spending quality time with family and friends

Also read: Challenging the system: Some gutsy women

Sharmila ended her nearly 16-year hunger strike, the world’s longest, against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur on August 9, 2016. She had also launched her political party, People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA). She founded the party with a few youth supporters, who had supported her since year 2000, to challenge the ruling Congress party’s rules. She fought from Thoubal constituency against three-time Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

READ: Ngurang Sisters: Championing Tribal Women Of Arunachal Pradesh

Read More Stories By Ria Das

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