On July 8, a First Information Report (FIR) was been registered against Annie Raja, General Secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), Nisha Siddhu, NFIW National Secretary; and Deeksha Duivedi, advocate, at the Imphal Police Station for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Meira Paibis in the state of Manipur.
The three were booked by the Imphal Police for “disregarding” the Meira Paibis movement of Manipur and calling their protest over the resignation of the Chief Minister as a “stage-managed drama.” They were also charged for referring to the riot of May 3 in Manipur as “state sponsored riot/state sponsored violence.” As had been reported in the Nagaland Post, the above-mentioned three had also stated that they had also met the affected people of both communities and concluded that what they had witnessed was evidence of state-sponsored violence. It is essential to note that the aforementioned commented were made by the three at a press meet, held at the Manipur Press Club, Imphal, on July 1, ten days ago.
Who is the complainant?
After receiving a complaint from S Liben of Imphal East, the complaint was registered. The complaint mentioned that the Chief Minister of Manipur decided to step down from his position as Chief Minister of Manipur due to the state’s existing law and order situation and out of moral obligation. However, he was compelled not to resign from the Chief Ministership due to an intense protest from Meira Paibis and the general people, who argued that he should stay in office and cannot resign at this crucial time.
As per the complainant, one of the three accused booked is a member of a political party (CPI), and their assertion that the chief minister’s resignation attempt was the result of “stage-managed drama” completely ignored the truth, and rather “harmed” and “victimised” the Meira Paibies of Manipur.
The complaint further stated that calling the May 3 riot “state-sponsored violence” without concrete proof is a plot to topple a democratically elected government by inciting people to wage war against it, as reported by the Imphal Free Press.
Sections used in the FIR:
The three women activists and advocates have been charged under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code: Section 121-A (Waging or attempting to wage war against the Government of India), 124 (Assaulting President, Governor, etc., with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power), 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot ) 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 153-B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration ), 499 (Defamation), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace ), 505(2)/34 (any statement rumor with common intention).
Statements made by NSIW team regarding Manipur violence:
A three-member fact-finding team, comprising of senior woman’s leader, Annie Raja, Nisha Siddhu and Deeksha Dwivedi, had visited the state of Manipur from June 28 to July 1 and found that “it was state-sponsored violence” with the government “continuing its provocative actions”. The team had called for disarming all groups and individuals, restoring peace and the immediate resignation of chief minister N Biren Singh, as reported by NewsClick.
The team had visited three relief camps in Imphal East and the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences on June 28 and two more relief camps in Moirang (Bishnupur district) and the district collector’s (DC) office on June 29. Later in the evening, the team also visited IMA Market and spoke with Meira Paibis.
At a press conference held on July 3, in the National Capital, Annie Raja had stated that “What is happening in Manipur is not communal violence, nor is it merely a fight between two communities. It involves the question of land, resources, and the presence of fanatics and militants. It is state-sponsored violence. We are saying this because we observed the police, they remain onlookers. Clashes are taking place in front of their eyes, and they remain spectators. It has angered both Meitei and Kuki people. The double-engine of BJP government in the state and the Centre should take responsibility,” she had said, as provided by PTI.
Advocate Deeksha Dwivedi had said that in all the relief camps, they did not find anyone who had been paid any compensation and the camps were lacking in facilities. She had also said that both “communities are in pain, and the government should find a way to resolve the conflict”, as reported by the PTI.
In addition to this, Nisha Sidhu had pointed out that most camps were run by citizens and civil society groups, with limited support from the government, and most of those in the camps were mostly daily wage workers and ordinary people. “The camps have persons aged one month to 80 years. Many pregnant women are also there. Food provided by the government is insufficient, especially for infants, elderly, pregnant and lactating women,” said Sidhu.
Furthermore, NFIW had said that it visited the state following the “gross breakdown of constitutional bodies, apparent suspension of the right to life and the absolute State apathy towards the crisis”, as provided by the NewsClick. Terming it a “state-sponsored violence”, the NFIW had said that it “didn’t occur without any build-up. A clear backdrop of mistrust and anxiety was stoked amidst both communities by the ruling dispensation at the state and Centre to precipitate a full-blown civil war-like situation”. Furthermore, the team had stated that they found that both communities are “unhappy and angry with the chief minister for mishandling the situation”.
Notably, as per the NewsClick report, before visiting Manipur, the NFIW also had a series of meetings with Kuki and Meitei women who had fled to New Delhi from the state of Manipur. “These meetings with the uprooted women gave a sense of urgency to NFIW and accelerated our resolve to initiate democratic intervention in the ongoing situation to bring back peace and stability in the state, especially for women and children.”
Continuous crackdown on activists of Manipur:
It is essential to note that the FIR filed against the NSIW team is not the lone incident where activists have been booked for speaking out about the crisis and episodes of violence in the state of Manipur. A report of the Wire has reported that three people, Prof Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a leading academic and two Kuki activists, Mary Grace Zou, convenor of the Kuki Women’s Forum; and Wilson Lalam Hangshing, general secretary of the Kuki People’s Alliance, have been summoned by an Imphal court in cases filed by Meitei activists. The said Meitei activists have alleged that statements made by the three in the course of their interviews to The Wire had inflamed communal passions.
Case against Prof. Hausing: According to a report in The Wire, Prof. Hausing was summoned by the Imphal East district court on July 6 after Manihar Moirangthem Singh, a representative of the Meitei Tribes Union (MTU), complained against him. The court’s chief judicial magistrate, Ashem Tarunakumari Devi, took cognisance of the complaints. According to the magistrate, Manihar Singh alleged in his complaint that Prof Hausing “made derogatory remarks against holy religious sites associated historically with the Meitei community” and tried to defame the Meiteis.
Various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (acts outraging religious feelings) and 501 (1) (printing defamatory material) had been invoked against Prof. Hausing.
Notably, in the interview with the Wire on June 17, Prof Hausing had told Karan Thapar that in order to resolve the deep-seated issues underlying the persisting violence in the state, Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh must resign from office and a separate administration must be created for the minority Kuki community.
Case against the Kuki activists: As per a report by the Hindu, the Imphal East district court summoned Kuki activist Zou and Hangshing on June 30, after the magistrate took cognisance of similar accusations levelled against them by Lourembam Cha Somerendro, a man who claims to be a social worker. In his complaint, Somerendro alleged that Zou and Hangshing “falsely” blamed Meitei mobs for starting the ongoing violence in Manipur and chief minister Biren Singh for being complicit in the violence. As per the report of the Wire, the magistrate had said said that “prima facie materials exist for the commission of offences under 153A, 200, 505 (1) sections” by Zou and Hangshing, and asked them to appear in court on July 24.
Essentially, in her interview with Karan Thapar on June 14, Zou had spoken regarding the difficulties faced by the state’s Kuki community as a result of the ongoing violence in Manipur. She had also supported the call for chief minister Biren Singh to resign as well as for a separate administration for the Kuki community.
Meanwhile, in his interview on May 26 with the Wire, Hangshing, who belongs to the pro-BJP Kuki People’s Alliance, told Thapar that chief minister Singh allegedly allowed an MLA’s home to be burned by mobs, and said that the Kukis would fight for a separate administrative unit.
Attempt to silence the voices, truth muddled, even authors are being hunted
For over two months now, the state of Manipur has been engulfed in bouts of violence. There has been a continued, yet much familiar, silence of the mainstream media in covering the issues faced by ordinary people in the state related to this breakdown of law and order. Accusations of either or many sides resorting to the airing of a one-sided narrative continues. There is no denying that the truth is being muddled, evident from the cases being filed some of the rational voices who offer a local perspective that simply, under Indian law and the constitutions, ask for some measure of accountability from the state and its elected representatives.
Despite the fact that the state government, with all assistance of the union government and paramilitary forces has not been successful in containing the continued violence, instead of tackling that core issue, now the local police has become the vehicle for silencing voices from both Manipur and outside who have responded, humanely, to the people’s plight. It is essential also to note that the Manipur home department has also asked the police to take action against member(s) of the Zomi Students’ Federation Union who published the report, The Inevitable Split, Documents on State Sponsored ethnic cleansing in Manipur. The police has also been told to ensure that further publication of the book is “banned.”
Meanwhile, an internet ban that in law amounts to a complete silencing of any form of expression or communication between and among people of the state has continued since May 3.