By: Monalisa Changkija
Sharmila scares me. And please don’t ask me: who is Sharmila. Because if you don’t know who she is then you won’t know what she stands for and what she personifies and the two equals to the fact that you are totally far removed from your own reality. For me, anyone in and of the Northeast who doesn’t know Sharmila ought to be ashamed of himself/herself.
I understand that today we in the Northeast are so totally bought over by the glitz and glamour of what the various forms of media sells us that we have come to believe that nothing is more real than the fantasy we have been sold — and the fantasy we consciously and deliberately chose to buy and seek comfort in. Denial is a disease we will have to find the cure sooner than later.
Anyway, Sharmila scares me because she has the strength to change the entire course of history of the world’s largest democracy thus change the realities of the victimized and the voiceless. Sharmila has the integrity, the commitment and the dedication to suffer and sacrifice for her beliefs and she has the focus she would not allow to be diverted to give it all up for what she believes in. Sharmila scares me because she makes me see who and what I really am — just another pen pusher, who fights for the world and its causes from the comforts of an air-conditioned room. Definitely Sharmila scares me because she reduces me to the level of the very people I write about with utter contempt and disdain vis-à-vis their corruption, nepotism, greed, lack of commitment, dedication, accountability and transparency and perhaps even worse, standing on platforms of ‘causes’ from the comforts of air-conditioned seminar halls, especially in scenic foreign locales. Yes, yes, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the NGOs, the Church leaders, the public leaders and whoever holds the centre stage of the various kinds of the corridors of power considered so vital to be ‘someone’ and ‘something’ in today’s considerations and calculations.
Sharmila scares me because in today’s considerations and calculations, she is ‘nothing’ and ‘nobody’ but she would go down in posterity as a heroine, in the same category as numerous women through the ages, who have facilitated and enabled today’s women to be ‘liberated’ and ‘empowered’. And she is doing it without a gun in her hands or any kind of ‘social standing and status’ or even beauty that is considered an important ‘cause’ (or is it a password?) today to convey to the world the status of ‘empowerment’. Sharmila probably has no ‘Convent’ education but has got across her message unambiguously without any affected speech or diction (read as a poor rendition of an American or a ‘globalized’ accent).
Sharmila scares me because she has no doubts and insecurities about being a child of the Northeast and certainly doesn’t need to imitate or be likened to anyone to her uncontestable claims to being an original. She continues to fast and undergo all kinds of suffering and sacrifices without informing the media to record her stand. And this needs to be underscored because today hardly anyone embarks on anything without the full frontal glare of media attention. In fact, this reminds me of an incident that has left a very bitter taste in my mouth. A few years ago, some women approached me with a deal. They wanted me to write about the medical camps their organization (which as far as I know doesn’t exist) ‘conducts’ in poor rural areas and they would send the newspaper clippings to the Centre so as to get ‘funds’. Really, women of the Northeast, why do we feel the need to insult and short-change ourselves, and in the process our people, thus? Take the trouble to learn about Sharmila and hang your heads in shame.
Sharmila scares me because her objectives are not local and parochial although her suffering and sacrifices are personal. Certainly no one would continue a fast unto death and suffer the indignity of being under ‘police custody’ and forced-fed for six years unless one’s beliefs are immutable therefore draw inner strength to continue a struggle that can be likened to supreme sacrifice of the self. After all, how many of us have even thought of half-a-day’s fast in solidarity with Sharmila’s lone and lonely struggle? Yes, Sharmila shames me because I am told that some of our Churches’ go for fasting from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. (a measly three hours) and sometimes for a few more hours for peace in our society and state.
I have never met Sharmila nor did I ever think of trying to meet or visit her. This means I really don’t know her but her six-year fast unto death makes me feel that I know her well enough not just to salute her but more importantly to rethink my own beliefs, value-system, principles and commitments, in fact, the very raison d’etre of my personal and professional life, as a media person. Today we talk in terms of ‘Journalism for Social Action’ and the like but keeping in mind the social activism our freedom fighters of yore took to heart and soul and now Sharmila, what do we really mean by ‘social action’? ‘Sting’ operations, especially the kind that underscores the shame and scandals of the high and mighty because such ‘stories’ sell or the plight of the ordinary person, whose story no one is interested and which doesn’t sell? Sharmila definitely scares me because she turns my world, as a media person, upside down and inside out.
Sharmila scares me because when she continues her fast unto death till the AFSPA is scrapped without wavering even for a second, she makes me question my own integrity as a media person because the AFSPA is not just about a draconian law imposed and enforced upon a defenseless people but about the very core of humanity’s fundamental, human and legal rights, considered sacred for all human beings’ survival, in and with dignity, as also integral for civilizational progression.
Seriously, Sharmila not only scares me, she also shames me.
** Monalisa Chankija is the editor of Dimapur based English daily Nagaland Page.