The Mirror of Manipur || Fast, Factual and Fearless.

Threat to the Nation?

Kishorchandra (top) and Erendro (bottom)

Recently, the N Biren Singh government slapped the NSA on a journalist and a social activist for their posts online that mocked the use of a cow’s bodily wastes as the cure for Covid-19. It followed the unfortunate demise of professor S Tikendra Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Manipur unit, due to Covid-19 on May 13.  

By Yambem Laba

The National Security Act, 1980 has been invoked numerous times to punish people who take up arms and wage war against the Indian nation-state. But this time, according to the Government of Manipur, those who “insult” cow dung and cow urine are threats to the nation.
Recently, the N Biren Singh government slapped the NSA on a journalist and a social activist for their posts online that mocked the use of a cow’s bodily wastes as the cure for Covid-19. It followed the unfortunate demise of professor S Tikendra Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Manipur unit, due to Covid-19 on May 13. Journalist  Kishorchandra Wangkhemcha had posted something in Manipuri. which can be roughly translated as “Cow dung and cow urine didn’t work. Unreasonable and unpleasant argument. Tomorrow, I will eat fish. Harvard University educated social activist Erendro Leichombam, on the other hand, posted in English saying, “The cure for corona is not cow dung and cow urine. The cure is science and common sense. Professor Ji RIP (sic)
The BJP took the posts as a gross insult, not only to the memory of its departed state president but also to the established cult of Hindutva. The party’s vice-president in Manipur Usham joy and general secretary P Premananda Singh lodged a complaint against the duo with Imphal West Police.  Kishorchandra Wangkhemcha  and Leichombam were subsequently arrested and charged with violations of Sections 153A and 505 (b)(2) of the Indian Penal Code that deals with promoting enmity between groups and making statements with an intent to incite or cause mischief, respectively.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate remanded them to four days of police custody on 14 May but thereafter, bail was granted on certain grounds. CJM Y Somorjit Singh observed that the posts made by the accused persons are irresponsible and insensitive and the same may hurt the sentiments of the family of the deceased and others who are dear and near to the deceased.” He had also observed that although the posts didn’t name any person, they were seemingly directed to Tikendra Singh
The CJM then released the duo on bail with the condition that they don’t leave Manipur without permission of the court or indulge in posting such materials in the future. As soon as they emerged from the courthouse, however, police were waiting with orders from the District Magistrate to detain them under the NSA. DM T Kirankumar, exercising powers under subsection 3 of Section 3 of the NSA. stated that he was satisfied that they would resume activities prejudicial to the security of the state and the maintenance of public order.”
The defendants’ counsel Chongtham Victor had earlier argued before the CJM that no case could be made in the incident and the entire episode was politically motivated. After they were detained under the NSA, the counsel said that they would formally request the Union home ministry and state government for the duo’s release, failing which they would move the High Court.  Kishorchandra Wangkhemcha  and Leichombam were sent to jail on 18 May.
In the meantime, another young social activist Ripin Philem was also reportedly taken into police custody over a Facebook post that asked, “what would happen to the TV interview showing Tikendra Singh defending the use of cow dung and cow urine for Covid proofing?”
This is not the first time that either  Kishorchandra or Leichombam have been booked. In November 2018, Kishorchandra had posted a piece questioning chief minister Biren Singh’s observance of Rani of Jhansi’s death anniversary. He had stated that the history of the freedom struggle in the Northeast was different from the rest of India and it would be wrong to co-opt the same as their own in Manipur. He also wrote expletives against the BJP-Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh combine and called Biren Singh a puppet of Hindutva”.
Kishorchandra was arrested, charged with sedition and kept behind bars for a month. While granting him bail, the judge had ruled that it was a mere expression of opinion against the public conduct of a public figure in a street language”, which did not warrant serious judicial steps.
The All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union had initially stated that any member being held by the state on account of Facebook posts should bear the responsibility themselves. Other reactions were sharp, both across the country and abroad. The first to respond was the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi, which held a candlelight vigil outside Kangla and decried the local media for their silence on the issue.
The Indian Journalists Union said that while they didn’t approve of the vulgar words used by Kishorchandra, they reiterated that freedom of expression also includes the right to offend and demanded his release. Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju called Biren Singh a “little dictator, asking if there was democracy in Manipur.
In a joint statement, the Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association, and Federation of Press Clubs In India had called for Kishorchandra’s immediate release in the interests of justice and the freedom of speech and expression. Condemnation also came from the American Press and well-known intellectual Noam Chomsky
As mentioned before, the journalist was later released by the Manipur High Court and the Bombay Press Club even invited him for a function there.
Kishorchandra’s second arrest followed yet another Facebook post. He was critical of the fact that Okram Henry Singh, earlier elected on a Congress Party ticket, had joined the BJP bandwagon and allegedly thrown out his wife who belonged to the Maram tribe. He had asked. “Even though she is gone, you will be hesitant to abuse her verbally as there are a lot of tribal voters in your constituency.”
A tribal women’s association registered a police complaint against Kishorcahndra citing, among other things. atrocities on a member of the scheduled tribe. He had spent over a month in Senapati Jail.
Leichombam first came into the news when he tied up with Irom Chanu Sharmila who had been on a 14-year-long hunger strike for revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. They founded the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance and contested the Manipur Assembly elections in 2017 where they lost. Sharmila moved to Bangalore thereafter and dropped out of the political scene, but Leichombam remained a sharp critic of the state government and BJP’s Hindutva policies.
He was arrested once before, for posting a photograph that depicted Manipur’s titular ruler Leishemba Sanajaoba seemingly bowing in obeisance to Union home minister Amit Shah after the former was elected to the Rajya Sabha on a BJP ticket. Leichombam had captioned it. “You son of a servant”:
All said and done, statistics would show that only a few members of underground militant groups in Manipur, who openly wield arms and publicize plans to overthrow the legally established government, have been booked under the NSA. It seems as if the Act is now limited to charging people for social media posts.
It should be mentioned here that CM Biren Singh, in his earlier avatar as the editor of a local vernacular daily was also arrested under charges of sedition and sent to jail. He now seems to have become intolerant of any critical word against him or his policies.

(The writer is Imphal based Senior Special  Representative of The Statesman. This article was first published in The Statesman)

You might also like
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.