The N. Biren Singh led BJP government in Manipur, in an attempt to suppress its dubious and partisan role in the ethnic clashes between Meities and Kukis in the state, has started criminalising efforts, opinions and views, which exposes its complicity in the violence. To suppress the truth about its complicity to be known to the world, the vindictive nature of the Manipur government and its Police is out in the open. By invoking sections of the Indian Penal Code, including waging war against the state, the BJP government in Manipur has set a new precedent of criminalising fact-finding efforts undertaken by human right groups and women activists, to bring out the truth from conflict zones. A report by GroundXero.
Groundxero | 10 July, 2023
On 8 July, 2023, an FIR has been lodged by Manipur Police against the three members — Annie Raja, General Secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW); Nisha Siddhu, NFIW National Secretary; and Deeksha Duivedi, Advocate — of a civilian fact finding team that recently visited Manipur and stated that the ethnic clashes in the state were the result of “state-sponsored violence”. The FIR was registered based on the complaint by one L. Liben Singh for statements made by the three women at a press conference on July 8, where they detailed their findings.
Since the outbreak of ethnic violence in Manipur on May 3, when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status, the violence in the state taken the form of a ethnic war between Meities and Kukis, claiming more than 150 lives of people from both the communities. To restore normalcy and take control of the situation, approximately 40,000 central security personnel have been deployed in the state, but in spite of that, over 300 churches has so far been vandalised and destroyed, and more than 60,000 people have fled homes and are currently living in relief camps or have taken shelter with relatives in Manipur and outside the state.
The gross breakdown of constitutional bodies, apparent suspension of the right to life, and the absolute State apathy towards the crisis in Manipur prompted NFIW to take the initiative for democratic intervention in the situation and the three-member fact finding team visited Manipur from 28th June to 1st July, 2023, to take stock of the ground reality. Prior to the visit, the team had a series of meetings in Delhi with women from Kuki and Meitei communities, who had to flee Manipur owing to the violence. In its interim report, which was published by Groundxero, the team had observed,
- What is occurring currently in Manipur is not communal violence nor is it merely a fight between two communities. It involves the questions of land, resources, and the presence of fanatics and militants. The fascist government shrewdly carried out strategies to materialize its hidden pro-corporate agenda, which has led to the current crisis.
- It is a State-sponsored violence.
- The violence that broke out on the 3rd of May did not occur by itself, without any buildup. There was a clear backdrop of mistrust and anxiety that was being stoked amidst both the communities by the ruling dispensation at the State and Center in order to precipitate a full-blown civil war-like situation. Many incidents took place in the months of March and April 2023 which clearly indicated the possibility of violent clashes. But the government chose to ignore it and allowed the brutal violence to happen.
- The team has called for disarming all groups and individuals, restoring peace and the immediate resignation of chief minister Biren Singh, and constitution of a High-powered/Supreme Court monitored inquiry and justice process.
In a Press Meet, at Imphal on 2 July, the fact-finding team leader, NFIW general secretary Annie Raja, stated that CM Biren Singh as elected representative of the people, was responsible for protecting the lives of the people of the state, irrespective of communities they belonged to, but he failed in “discharging his constitutional responsibility of protecting and safeguarding life and livelihood. That is why he should take moral and political responsibility”. Annie reiterated: “He (chief minister) should have resigned from his post within the week after violence erupted on May 3 itself. He did not do that.” She also termed Biren Singh’s purported resignation, which he took back, after protest by Meira Paibis, as a “stage managed drama.”
In his complaint to the police, L Liben Singh claimed that the statements by the fact-finding team were in “complete disregard to actual facts” and were part of a conspiracy to “overthrow a democratically elected government by instigating people to wage war against the government”. The FIR registered at the Imphal Police Station, mentions “hurting the sentiments of the Meira Paibis” in the state by terming the protest of Meira Paibis (women belonging to the majority Meitei Hindu community) against the resignation of Chief Minister, Biren Singh, as “stage-managed drama”. The FIR invokes several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including waging war against the state, provocation and defamation.
The criminalisation of the NFIW fact-finding team by the Manipur State police is a direct attack on the citizens “right to know” which is protected by our constitutional right as enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. The registration of the FIR is a violation of citizens fundamental right of free speech and freedom of expression. It is concerning and shocking that the effort of a women fact-finding team which went to hear the distress of women and report objectively their stories of violence, loss, displacement, deaths is being criminalised by the state based on a dubious complaint that they have defamed the state Government by calling the violence “state sponsored”. By invoking sections of the Indian Penal Code, including waging war against the state, the BJP government in Manipur has set a new precedent of criminalising fact-finding endeavours undertaken by human right groups and women activists, to bring out the truth from conflict zones.
The registration of criminal charges against the women fact-finding team comes after a court in Imphal East district, on July 6 summoned Prof. Kham Khan Suan Hausing, head of the University of Hyderabad’s political science department, over his remarks on the Manipur violence. The court took cognisance of a complaint made by Manihar Moirangthem Singh, a member of the Meitei Tribes Union. Prof. Suan Hausing has been accused of making “derogatory remarks” against “holy religious sites associated historically with the Meitei community” in an interview with The Wire’s Karan Thapar on June 17. In the interview, Prof. Suan Hausing, who belongs to a tribal community from Manipur, had spoken against the role of Meitei outfits and the state-sponsored violence against the Zomi-Kuki tribes in the state. He had called upon Biren Singh to resign as Chief Minister and suggested that a separate administration must be created for the minority Kuki tribes. The next date of hearing in the case is on July 28.
Responding to the charges against him, Prof. Suan Hausing said, “If a majoritarian state and its regime chose to use its coercive monopoly of power to silence truth and violate human rights with impunity, we have to remain united, reclaim and fight for these”. It needs to be noted that the Meitei Tribe Union, whose member lodged the complaint against Prof. Suan Hausing, was responsible for securing the High Court order recommending the inclusion of Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list. It was this order that acted as an immediate trigger to the deadly ethnic clashes in the state.
If a majoritarian state and its regime chose to use its coercive monopoly of power to silence truth and violate human rights with impunity, we have to remain united, reclaim and fight for these #ManipurViolence @UNCHRSS @ABC @CNN @BBCWorld
— Kham Khan Suan Hausing (@kksuanh) July 7, 2023
Prior to prosecuting Prof. Suan Hausing, two other Kuki activists – Mary Grace Zou and Wilson Lalam Hangshing – were summoned by a court on June 30 for the remarks they made about the clashes during an interview with Karan Thapar of The Wire. Mary Zou spoke to Karan Thapar on June 14 about the difficulties faced by the state’s Kuki community as a result of the ethnic clashes and supported the call for chief minister Biren Singh to resign. She also demanded a separate administration for the Kukis in Manipur. Wilson Hangshing, who belongs to the pro-BJP Kuki People’s Alliance, told Thapar in his interview on May 26, that Biren Singh allegedly allowed a Kuki MLA’s home to be burned by mobs, and said that the Kukis would fight for a separate administrative unit.
In an another development, the commissioner of Manipur’s home department has written to the state’s director general of police, asking him to register an “FIR and take stern action” against the two organisations, the Zomi Students’ Federation and Kuki Students Organisation, for publishing a booklet called ‘The Inevitable Split: Documents of State-Sponsored Ethnic Cleansing in Manipur, 2023’. The police have also been told to ensure that further publication of the booklet is banned.
The above coercive steps of the BJP government in Manipur, are naked abuse of laws to suppress its dubious and partisan role in the ethnic clashes in the state, attempt to criminalise the expression of opinions and views which exposes its complicity in the deadly violence in the state. To suppress the truth of its role to be known to the world, the Police at the behest of the state government is using the law as an instrument of terror to frighten and intimidate citizens and activists by registration of frivolous FIR’s against them.