The reason for me to pick this book is its author – Anubha Bhonsle, the Executive Editor of CNN-IBN based out of India’s capital city. Over the past 10 years, her work in journalism, be it about human rights or politics or armed forces, has never once failed to intrigue me. In this non-fictional account, Anubha choses a topic that will tug at your heart. The book is about India’s north-eastern state Manipur, where much of her work has been focused. The state which has been ravaged by rampant ethnic rivalries, insurgency and counter-insurgency operations, and the inexcusable corruption.
The book never leans towards leaving you with only one side of the story. This is an entire account spanning more than 10 years, where we get to hear first hand information from the local people, the state and central government, the armed forces as well as the insurgent groups. It is only because Anubha’s work has been concentrated in the state of Manipur and between the Manipuris that the locals have opened up to her. You feel the importance of her work at that as you turn page after page. Also the pain. Lots and lots of pain.
The book is an effort to throw attention on the small state of North Eastern India and what its people go through each and every day of the year. Imagine being threatened and victimised year after year just for the sake of an elected representative trying to get you to vote for him. You will be stirred and shocked to witness the lack of political will and alienation that the state has suffered from and start wondering whether this part of the independent state of India has really been dragged out of the colonial rule or not.
The author has been able to make this book a gripping read as she takes us through the story of a woman Irom Sharmila, who has been on a protest fast since 2000. With her as our protagonist, the book takes us through the streets of Manipur, the houses, the local food, the culture, the markets. The book takes a step more and portrays the life of the locals under the shadow of the gun. While we continue our jokes on the AFSPA-Chutzpah rhyme-play, there exist actual people suffering and dying at AFSPA’s hands. Multiple interviews with militants and anonymous army officials back up this story.
As I read accounts of the people staying in Manipur through it all, the only words that would resound in my mind are deep loss, denial of memory and gross injustice. The heart-wrenching account of the conversations between Bhonsle and Sharmila only bleed violence and trauma and leave you utterly speechless.