Irom Sharmila
Irom SharmilaReuters

In less than 24 hours after breaking her 16-year-long fast to protest against the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), human rights activist and prisoner of conscience, Irom Sharmila, was back at the special ward of JNIMS Hospital in Imphal.

However, this time she was brought in as a patient, rather than as a prisoner. The Iron lady of Manipur was recovering from shock and disappointment over her own people disallowing her from living in a colony she had planned to stay in after being discharged from the hospital. The locals were upset with her decision of breaking her hunger strike. She was later taken to the Iskcon temple, but was turned away there too.

"I'm very disappointed," Sharmila said, on "rejection" by her own people.

"At that moment, I felt the best thing for them would have been beating me to death. What is the difference between being beaten to death or dying from fasting? Not much…They want me to remain a martyr forever. But I can't always be a martyr," said the 44-year-old activist.

Why did some locals feel betrayed by Sharmila?

The supporters of 'Meira Paibis' and patrons of Sharmila Kanba Lup (Protect Sharmila Organisation), also known as SAKAL, have decided to continue their struggle against AFSPA without Irom. They are set to remove large posters of "India is slowly killing Sharmila," that covers their headquarters in Manipur. They also issued a statement saying that they would not carry Irom's photos in the "Repeal AFSPA" posters henceforth.

"She has nothing to do with us any longer. We feel disappointed and let down by her…Yesterday was the saddest day of my life. She has not been listening to us. She has not been consulting us on any of her decisions…We were all fighting against AFSPA. The people did not allow her to stay because they must have felt similarly betrayed by her, although I am sad that she was turned away,'' L Madhu Laima (72-year-old) from Sagolband said.

Sharmila's Refuge

Irom was escorted to the Imphal City police station initially, but, later, was taken back to the same ward room of JNIMS hospital that has been her home from the time she launched her crusade.

"I will go back to my world," she said, as she returned to the hospital on Tuesday.

On Wednesday however, Sharmila was in warm company, surrounded by human rights activists and friends. She had 10 teaspoons of Horlicks milk powder in the day. A stream of journalists, both from national and international media also flooded the hospital complex.

Sharmila declined to accept the hospital's offer of allowing her to stay there for up to a month. The Red Cross in Imphal also offered her shelter on Wednesday.

"We have our office at Thangal Bazar which can be turned into a living quarters for Sharmila. She can stay there for however long she wants to," said Dr Y Mohen Singh, secretary of Red Cross-Imphal.

"There is nothing wrong with her stomach — only her oesophagus has been non-operational for years. So she slowly needs to break that in...If there is any problem in her eating, then it will be a psychological one," Dr L Ranbir Singh, Medical Superintendent of JNIMS said.

"With my extraordinary bravery, I will get through this. I'm feeling positive," said Irom, who hopes to leave the hospital to her 'home' soon, to begin a new chapter in her life.