The Indian press heaved a collective sigh of regret when Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Every newspaper and TV channel loves a good story, and Malala’s offered everything. A courageous girl ready to fight to death for her right to education, and a chance to gloat over Pakistan’s abysmal human rights record. All was well, except for one tiny matter that was washed over. One of the contenders for the Peace Prize was Indian, and surely as deserving to be called an apostle of peace. She was Irom Sharmila, who had been nominated for her twelve-year long fast to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, a draconian law that gives the armed forces immunity from prosecution in “disturbed” areas.
In a mindboggling case of lazy journalism, media houses in the country failed to highlight her nomination. It is true that Malala was one of the frontrunners and newspapers around the world championed her case, but surely, Ms. Sharmila deserved some recognition in her home country. Or is Irom Sharmila a name to be dredged up from memory only in the first week of March, when the Indian government releases her for a day and arrests her again?
Prior to the announcement, the Nobel Prize committee did not rule out her chances of winning the prize.
“I don’t want to rule her out. I think she could have a chance. But I don’t think India would be the main direction in which the committee will be looking this year,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, Director, Peace Research Institute Oslo, in an interview with IBN Live on October 11.
Amnesty International recently called for the charges against her to be dropped. “Irom Sharmila is a Prisoner of Conscience, who is being held solely for her peaceful expression of her beliefs,” said Shashikumar Velath of Amnesty International India on October 1, 2013. “Authorities must drop all charges against her, and release her immediately and unconditionally.”
On November 4, Ms. Sharmila will have completed thirteen years of her fast. In the process she has wrecked irreversible damage to her body. Shoma Choudhary writes in an issue of Tehelka Magazine dated December 9, 2006: “Irom Sharmila, 34, has not eaten anything, or drunk a single drop of water for six years. Six years. She has been forcibly kept alive by a drip thrust down her nose by the Indian State. For six years, nothing solid has entered her body. Not a drop of water has touched her lips. She has not combed her hair. She cleans her teeth with dry cotton and her lips with dry spirit so she will not sully her fast. Her body is wasted inside. Her menstrual cycles have stopped. Yet she is resolute. Whenever she can, she removes the tube from her nose. It is her bounden duty, she says, to make her voice heard in the most reasonable and peaceful way.”
It has been seven years since the interview took place. One can only wonder how her body has continued to hold on so long. November 2 will mark thirteen years since the Malom massacre, in which ten civilians were shot by Assam Rifles personnel while they were waiting at a bus stop; the horror of which inspired Ms. Sharmila to take up her struggle. Little has changed since then. Before throwing stones at another’s house, India would do well to remember her own shameful track record.