A democracy of armed soldiers
(Published by the Hindu on August 22, 2014)
To get to the room where Irom Sharmila has spent a majority of her protest life one can pass the corridor of the main block of Imphal’s Jawaharlal Nehru hospital, turn around a flight of stairs and another long corridor. Or one can hope to enter directly from a separate block where she stays.
It has its own entrance. The grill gates are always locked. Sometimes the wooden door is shut as well. Waiting visitors dare not even peep. The doors open for those cleared by the Manipur government. Often, many sit outside on the green granite steps, their heads leaning on the light blue distempered wall. There is nothing else you can do. No window, no crevice opens into Sharmila’s world. Once inside permissions are verified, gifts are checked. The air is mildly sweet and vaguely antiseptic. Entry to the room is possible only when the Jailor arrives. A nurse station is just outside. On the table are scattered sheets with readings of her latest parameters. Opposite, a blackboard lists the names of patients occupying various rooms. Occupant, I Sharmila hasn’t changed for years. (Read the full editorial, published by the Hindu on August 22, 2014)
The revolution will not be tweeted, said Malcom Gladwell. The so-called disgust for the Indian media in Nepal that triggered a hashtag, #GoBackIndianMedia for about 24-odd hours was certainly not tweeted by men and women I met in villages close to the epicenter, even those I interrupted while they were pulling out a large rice drum from the collapsed rubble of their house in Kathmandu. Or those who had trekked down for almost half a day when they heard that a small medical camp had come up. I managed to evade television and print for several days while in Nepal. On my return one of the first things I’d say is that a strong dose of introspection by the media is needed.
When a disaster happens it seems to everyone that the low hanging fruit is to show the destruction and cycle of death. It’s not an easy task when villages turn to rubble, roads are wiped out and bars of your mobile phone vanish. The media then takes all the help it can to witness first hand the situation and file reports. I have taken help of friends, locals, friends of friends, government agencies-essentially anyone I know and their father to get to a spot.