'Sharmila is an ordinary woman, what she does is extraordinary'
Source: The Sangai Express

Imphal, September 03 2009: Author of 'Burning Bright : Irom Sharmila And The Struggle For Peace In Manipur,' Deepti Priya Mehrotra talks with our Delhi correspondent, Ninglun Hanghal.

The book will release on September 5 at New Delhi.

Ninglun Hanghal/ The Sangai Express: When was your first meeting with Sharmila ? Knowing about her struggles before, what were your initial feelings ?
Deepti Priya Mehrotra: I met her in November 2006, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital.

I have known, read about her long time back.

Initially I went to the hospital to pay respect to her.

Being an activist I was deeply moved, even before personally meeting her.

Deepti Priya Mehrotra with Sharmila at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, 2007

NH/ TSE : Why the title 'Burning Bright.' Any indication on her or meaning to it?
DPM: Sharmila's spirit is burning.

The struggle of the people of Manipur is burning, especially Sharmila's Spirit.

That was the idea, that is what I meant.

NH/TSE : What drove you to write about her ?
DPM: I teach a course on non-violence as part of Conflict Transformation Program � a 2 year Diploma in Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi University.

It is a motivation because when you are teaching about Gandhi and non-violence, Sharmila is a living example.

We became very friendly.

I kept going to her and became more and more drawn towards her.

We chatted � about everything � family, social issues.

At the back of my mind I thought one day I might write about her.

As written in the book, after she left, she became part of my life.

It was the first time I met a Manipuri so closely.

I liked it.

I met them in group, Thoiba, Onil, Singhajit, and there are so many others coming in and out in the hospital to be with her.

They all educated me about the situation in Manipur.

My students also got interested, including my daughter , Sunandita (she clicked those photographs in the book).

NH / TSE : That brings you to Manipur ....
DPM : Soon after Sharmila left Delhi in March 2007, I went to Manipur in April.

Before she left she said "don't say good bye".

She had just finished her 110 line poem, neatly written, without cuts, an inspired writing.

Manipuris are very cheerful.

I was struck, like Babloo speaking to Sinhajit with respect.

I met many friends, they were very helpful providing me with documents and literature.

NH/ TSE : You met Sharmila, you met the Emas, you went to the rural areas, what are your thoughts, your comments on women in Manipur ?
DPM : Sharmila's mother, her grandmother are ordinary women.

Still, they are strongemotionally, politically, and they take interest in social issues.

There is a distinct sense of women collective strength.

The Meira Paibis, they are so lively, so energetic, so much commitment, both older and younger ones.

Sharmila is an exception, to be introduced to Ema Ramani, Ema Taruni, is so respectful.

They told me the history of their struggle for over 30 years.

I like them very much.

NH / TSE: Some of your experience in the conflict state of Manipur.
DPM: There were uniform men everywhere.

Always having to be proved, showing your identity card in one's own country.

The common people, my human rights friends are living a very hard time.

But I was never really checked, it seems with outsider, a non-Manipuri, they behave much better.

But yes I went through a lot of procedure and security scrutiny by authorities to meet Sharmila.

There is increase in conflict.

The State has really mistreated the people of Manipur, for no reason, without really looking at the genuine grievances of the people and instead enforce AFSPA, so more have reacted.

The violence had grown so much , both the sides are unreasonably violent � mirror image of each other.

And ordinary people are caught in the crossfire.

NH/TSE : Referring to one of the chapters "Body Politics" could you put it in brief on body as a site and tool vis-a-vis non violent and other forms of protest.
DPM: Sharmila and the Emas (nude protesters) both used their body.

It is a cutting edged protestmeaning a very advanced form of protest.

It is a very difficult form of protest for a woman.

The conventional forms of protest are not yielding result.

As Sharmila said "I don't have economic or political power," the same is with the Emas.

It is a form of creating a powerin a very unconventional way, with very limited resource the body.

In Manipur they used that power and a collective one.

They used it very well.

In this way they are drawing attention and it is a winning way.

NH/TSE : Do you see more solidarity � national and international for Sharmila and the issue.
DPM: I think her fast, her protest has drawn attention to the issue, and those of us seeing similar issue in different parts of India, Chhattisgarh, Kashmir, naturally get drawn to this.

It strengthens national and international human rights movement.

She is a leader, like Aung San Suu Kyi, they are an Icon of Justiceof non violence.

More support will keep building up.

NH/ TSE : On Sharmila as a person?
DPM: There are many things about her.

Such an ordinary background, her family work on paddy field, they weave for themselves.

She is somewhere representing a resistance to destructive development.

She is strongly rooted � in family , state, history.

What she say and do is universal, her politics, her spirit, her belief.

She is a very integrated person.

NH/ TSE: From your concluding Epilogue: "Nobody knows where it will end or when..." Would you brief on being engaged and concentrating in belief and hope in the Dance Movement "inside the labyrinth of controversies and conflicts" for the change to manifest ?
DPM: It was a metaphor � watching Lai Haraoba.

The dance movements are somewhere part of a cosmic balance.

There is a balance between human action and cosmic balance.

Sharmila's action has a collective impact, on human destiny and works at many levels.

Her action is affecting the rest of humanity, helping to build solidarity and a collective force against the violent forces.

NH/ TSE: You would like to add something ...a few concluding remark ?
DPM: Too many things to talk about.

I wish that all violence are driven away.

My wishes for Peace and Development in Manipur.

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