She fasted for 16 years to press the withdrawal of draconian AFSPA from Manipur and became an international celebrity. Then she broke the fast, joined politics and lost the cult status and the credibility of a respected human rights crusader. Last week, Irom Sharmila flew to Srinagar with Desmond Coutinho, her husband, met Chief Minister and many other stakeholders. She visited various girl orphanages and met various women within and outside the government. Pune based NGO Sarhad is helping her to work for women empowerment in Kashmir. The NGO has started some empowerment initiative in Dardpora which it calls Aaashh. Here are excerpts from her interview with Durdana Bhat
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Why is Irom Sharmila in Srinagar?
IROM SHARMILA (IS): Like In Manipur, AFSPA is in place in Kashmir also. The two regions have several similar experiences to share. I want to have a dialogue with women in Kashmir to make them understand their rights and raise voice against the draconian Act. I want the women to pressure the governments for their rights and for the investigations into the deaths.
I would be starting a new inning of social work in Jammu and Kashmir. My plan is to fight for women in conflict zones. AFSPA should be repealed in Jammu & Kashmir as well.
I have come to Kashmir as an ‘ambassador of peace’ and want to meet the women suffers who are the worst victims of the conflict.
I am motivated by the cause of Kashmiri women because, in any protracted conflict, women are the worst sufferers. I have seen injustices and atrocities committed against women in Manipur and I feel a certain similarity between Manipur and Kashmir.
KL: Are you against the state government or the armed forces?
IS: I am neither against the army nor against the state government. I believe violence won’t achieve anything in Kashmir and nor using the guns is the solution to anything. The killings in Kashmir should end. The people should engage in talks with the government other than indulging in the violent protests.
KL: Do you know Kunan Poshpora? Have you ever heard the names of Asifa and Neelofer?
IS: I have never heard about Kunan Poshporah and at first I want to know about the things in Kashmir in details. As far as the fight for the human rights is concerned, we all are equally valuable and we must uphold each and every individual’s rights.
I will come back to Kashmir; meet girls, half-widows and women of Kashmir to know more about their problems and share ideas with them. I will focus on dialogues. I would like to hold talks with all the people here in Kashmir.
KL: You had a meeting with Chief Minister?
IS: I asked the Chief Minister to help the civilians who get injured in the protest and asked her to repeal the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir.
The injustice was done on people of Kashmir and the human rights violation here is much more than we have in Manipur. I will meet the victims of who are blinded by the pellet gun.
(Tahir Bhat contributed to the interview.)