By - Dr. Malem Ningthouja
The brutal murder of a ‘Muslim’ headmaster Md. Hashmad Ali alias Babu (55) was confirmed in the wee hour, before the dawn of 2nd November, 2015. Outside Manipur, there was a deliberate mapping of Manipur into the ongoing ‘communal intolerance’ prevalent in ‘mainland’ India. To cite two examples, the Hindustan Times, dated 4th November, 2015 carried a news under the title Headmaster Lynched for Stealing Cow; Shutdown Call in Manipur. The following day, the New York Times published a news under the title Indian Muslim, Accused of Stealing a Cow, is Beaten to Death by a Hindu Mob. These news depicted about an ‘antagonistic co-existence’ of communities or uneasily relation between majority Meeteis (Hindus) and minority Panggals (Muslims), as if marked by occasional clashes ever since a riot took place in 1993 and the emergence of Panggal based Islamic militant groups.
In these reports, the murder and the agitation for justice are being construed with communal overtones. These were being shown as continuity of community hatred and extension of the recent Hindu Muslim tensions centred on the ban on beef and protection of cow. The Hindustan Times report incorporated a photo with the caption the murder of Muslim man in a UP village for allegedly eating beef had sparked national outrage. Similarly the New York Times incorporated a photo with the caption Kashmiri villagers shouted pro-freedom slogans last month while carrying the body of a Muslim driver attacked by far-right extremists angered by rumours of cow slaughter, an issue that stirs religious tensions in the Hindu-majority country. These news distorted the facts of agitation and conveyed manufactured news about an irate Muslim public helplessly fighting vis-à-vis the regime of the Hindu majority that have denied the former protection and justice. The blame was on the Meetei.
The misinformation have achieved widespread publicity, continuously reverberated on uncensored social networks. Such yellow journalism, indulged by some journalists objectified the Meetei as Hindus, hatching religious fundamentalism against minority Muslims. However, information from the ground, provided by the relatives of the victim and other ‘Muslim’ friends, who are directly involved in the agitation for justice, says a different thing and exposes the intention of the yellow journalists. But, before placing the findings, there are at least three points that had to be briefly clarified. First, Meetei cannot be homogenously identified with Hindu or Hinduism. Two, the Muslims who have settled for centuries in Manipur are known as Meetei Panggal. They possess localized linguistic and cultural characters that mark them distinctively peculiar to non-Manipuri Muslims. Third, Meetei and Meetei Panggal are neither socially exclusive to one another nor they are compartmentalized into watertight antagonistic communal politics. To sum up, the anachronous depiction of these communities by the media needs to be reviewed.
In fact, Late Md. Hashmad Ali, the headmaster of the morning Keirao Litan Makhong Primary School, a calm and respectable person in the Panggal neighbourhood of Keirao Makting Awang Leikai, under Irilbung Police Station in Imphal East. It was socially revealed that Ali’s relation with Matlib had become strained because of land dispute. Some days ago there was an intensive altercation on this issue and Matlib had threatened to kill Ali. On the unfortunate night of 1st November, when Ali was alone at the home, Matlib hired three other ‘Muslim’ friends and six Meetei co-workers from the Meetei neighbourhood to kill Ali. At around 8 p.m., Matlib sent two Meeteis, who alarmed Ali that Malick had met with an accident on the way to home and that they were being sent there to drop him to the hospital. Ali believed in their story. When all of them met at the Nandeibam Leikai, they raised the alarm of cattle thief, fatally tortured Ali with iron rods, and abandoned the body on the road near a Meetei temple known as Lai Moriba Temple.
The rumour about cattle thief and mobbing, which were aimed at covering up the objective of murder and the crime, became redundant following the arrest of and revelation by Khumallambam Brojen, the owner of the controversial calf. The accused are now socially known. However, the law enforcing agents are deviating from the prescribed course of delivering justice; probably due to political pressure in favour of the ‘accused’ by the candidates who are contesting the Thongju Kendra bye-election to the Manipur State Assembly. On the other hand, if there was community mobbing, it was not when Ali was murdered by a hired gang. Mobbing occurred in the ‘Muslim’ locality when the house of the prime accused was burnt, which had badly affected other members of the family who might have not involved in the crime. Such tendency of mobbing as a form of vengeance and justice has become an undesirable trend in Manipur. Police irresponsiveness and inaction for justice have not only protected the criminals but also encouraged the aggrieved sections to take law into their hands. In all these, there is neither Hindu mobbing nor communal conflict. The Joint Action Committee against the Brutal Killing of Md. Hashmad Ali (JAC) is seeking the support of peoples across communities and agitating for justice. It remains uncertain about the durability of the JAC and different tactical courses it may take, if