Irom Sharmila bats for Kashmir’s creative conflict widows

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Guwahati, June 7: Irom Sharmila is back as a campaigner, but far from her home in Manipur.
Once the face of a movement against the Armed Forces (Special Powers Act) Act, or Afspa, Ms. Sharmila had fallen off the radar after breaking her marathon fast in August 2016 and contesting a disastrous election eight months later.
She left Manipur and married her long-time British partner Desmond Coutinho in Tamil Nadu’s Kodaikanal in August 2017 to focus on her own life.
But the activist in her staged a comeback as brand ambassador of Aaashh, an initiative of Pune-based NGO Sarhad for violence-affected women weavers and artisans of Jammu and Kashmir. Aaashh is Kashmiri for hope.
“We have been associated with her since her days of fasting in (Manipur capital) Imphal. She visited us in May and agreed to become the brand ambassador of the handmade items produced by the women associated with Aaashh,” Sanjay Nahar, founder of Sarhad, told The Hindu from Pune.
A social, cultural and educational organisation, Sarhad has been working among orphans and widows of conflict-torn areas beginning with the Punjab, Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. The NGO’s school in Pune has about 200 extremism-affected boys and girls from Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Manipur.
Nahar, Sharmila and Coutinho left for Srinagar on June 3, met Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Jammu and Kashmir women’s commission members before touring Kupwara district to meet the conflict widows and women primarily into weaving.
Aaashh has about 200 women concentrated in Kupwara’s Poshpora. The initiative had 70 women to begin with, and is set to expand to other areas of the State.
“The Kashmiri women related to Ms. Sharmila who had gone through similar ordeal in another part of the country. She motivated them, gave them courage to move on from the trauma of the past,” Aqib Bhat, Mr. Nahar’s Kashmir-based associate, said while returning to Srinagar from Poshpora on Wednesday evening.
“It is not easy for these women who have perhaps endured more than I did. We connected because of a common cause,” Ms. Sharmila, 46, said.
Nahar said Ms. Sharmila, now based in Kodaikanal, could relocate to Bengaluru or a suitable location in Kashmir depending on the situation.
“Campaigning against AFSPA in Kashmir is very much on for her. But she is clear about self-sustenance first and using non-violent methods to combat oppressive laws,” he said. (Courtesy: The Hindu)