“Are you from Imphal?”
“Still you run for Irom Sharmila?”
I first heard of Irom Sharmila many years ago in a play by Maya Krishna Rao. Those were the early days still. Sharmila had been fasting for not so long… 5 or 6 years maybe? I say early because a decade on, little has changed. Sharmila has been on hunger strike for 15 years. And counting. Her demand – #repealAFSPA
Each year, on the 17th of July, Meghalaya marks the death os U Tirot Singh, a chief of the Khasi people who fought against the Britishers’ attempt to take over the Khasi Hills.This is also the day the Sohra/Cherrapunjee Marathon takes place. I ran this race the first time last year. The route was as challenging as it was beautiful, the event was organised almost flawlessly (there was news the next morning about how locals had been unhappy with the organisers) and there was every reason for me to come back. And I did.
This year, however, everything was different.
A new route, constant rain and wind and a shirt that read – ‘I run for Irom Sharmila’
If there is anything that has tested my resilience, endurance and determination in recent times, it has been distance running. At every step, you must play a new trick on yourself to go on just a bit more. A little faster. A lot more stronger. The promise of the finish line, of food, of rest, of a medal, of achievement helps… the promise of finishing what you started out to do. This is a measly 21km over two or two and a half hours.
Can you imagine what an endless 15 years and counting must be like? With no finish line in sight?
I had conversation with one army officer after the finish line. ” Have you met her? Are you a journalist? If you would like to meet her, let me know. I am posted in Imphal. You know, she is in a death trap. What she has lost in all these years of her life is too much…. No.#AFSPA is not the answer.”
We disagreed on a few things. Then agreed on some. Most of all that #AFSPA doesn’t solve anything. When I told him I did theatre, he said theatre in manipur is great. I agreed.He took a photo with me.
There was an entire contingent of the Assam Rifles ( they supported the marathon) that ran the marathon. One jawan paced me for the last 9 km.
The only people who really recognised what the t shirt said were from the army. Others didn’t seem to know. Or care?
If you don’t know about the Iron Lady of Manipur, do google ‘Irom Sharmila’. Why? Because public opinion and support can move mountains.
When I ran the ADHM in Delhi last year, somewhere close to the half way point, the crowd of runners started chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. I didn’t chant. But most did. It was a completely acceptable and popular political message to give out in the midst of an event that would seem completely unrelated to politics or the political. But is anything ever?
We look for our small ways to stand with or run for those we believe is and that which we think is just. A tiny and very humble effort ( hopefully just a beginning?) to bring an uncomfortable conversation into the otherwise sanitised mainstream.
This was my 5th Half Marathon.
A second time I ran the Sohra Cherrapunjee Marathon.
The best run I have run so far.
Official time of 2:05.
The shirt was painted by Samita Chatterjee