Home » How about a ‘CSO’ for Mr. Biren’s critics

How about a ‘CSO’ for Mr. Biren’s critics

by Aribam Bishwajit
0 comment 4 minutes read

Unsurprisingly, India’s press freedom ranking stands at 161 out of 180 countries this year. In the Indian state of Manipur, led by N Biren Singh, there are rampant claims of curbed free expression, especially on social media platforms. Critics of the government or Mr. Biren often find themselves recanting their statements within days, hinting at government pressure. Expressing dissent on social media seemingly places one under the government’s lens. The past four months in Manipur have been marred by deaths, arson, and disturbing videos of violence. The finger points towards the government’s inability to protect its citizens, those who fund their governance. Amidst the chaos, reports of women being assaulted emerge, and countless individuals find refuge on the streets while government officials reside comfortably in their air-conditioned homes, all at the expense of the affected populace. Despite the ongoing unrest, the government seems to have no tangible solution. Their tepid response? “We are trying our best.”
Many are exasperated by the perceived ineffectiveness of the lawmakers who, despite the circumstances, expect to be addressed with “Honorable.” Their perceived incompetency has led to public expressions of dissatisfaction, primarily targeting N Biren Singh and other MLAs. In a recent incident, a woman renamed Biren’s surname “Nongthombam” using a term deemed ‘derogatory’, yet it resonated with netizens who felt it apt. Predictably, she later issued an apology on Facebook. While Singh faces criticism from the Zo-Kuki community in rallies and protests, no arrests have been reported, leading to a pressing question: Does Singh’s influence only extend over the Meitei and women, leaving the Zo-Kuki community untouched?
In October 2017, in the United States, a photograph captured cyclist Juli Briskman giving the middle finger to President Donald Trump’s motorcade during a weekend bike ride in Virginia. She was expressing his anger at President Donald Trump’s motorcade during her weekend bike ride in Virginia. Her act became a symbol of personal expression. When she identified herself to her employer, government contractor Akima, as the cyclist in the viral photo, she was dismissed the next day. However, the aftermath was heartening. A crowdfunding campaign for Briskman received over $70,000 (approximately 58 lakhs in INR). This incident underscored the public’s eagerness to support freedom of speech and expression.
Contrastingly, in Manipur, voicing dissent against the government, especially Chief Minister N Biren Singh, can lead to arrests. Many individuals hesitate to post critical or disapproving comments against the government on platforms like Facebook, often second-guessing and then retracting their words. The atmosphere is palpably tense.
A country or state truly flourishes when there’s transparency, and its citizens are informed about the government’s actions and initiatives. Encouraging public discourse, questioning, and constructive criticism can only strengthen governance. After all, governments are funded by taxpayers, from their meals, air-conditioned vehicles, to even the utilities they use. In Manipur, there’s a growing sentiment that citizens live under the government’s thumb. Numerous civil society organizations (CSOs), each with unique ideologies and objectives, have originated from Manipur. The recent four months of unrest have seen the inception of even more CSOs. The prevailing discord stems from the perceived lack of governmental transparency or perhaps from citizens’ hesitance in questioning administrative decisions. Drawing inspiration from the United States incident, people should empower one another, exercising their freedom of speech and expression to pave the way for a brighter, more harmonious Manipur.
What can we do? Manipur now has ample of CSOs, and even more CSOs voicing to unite them all. It also has countless lawyers and law graduates. Therefore, now is the opportune time for Maniopur to establish a ‘Civil Society Organization (CSO)’ dedicated to offering free legal aid to individuals who express themselves openly on social media platforms, criticising Mr. Biren and his co. Many, out of fear of arrest and the inability to afford legal fees, have been coerced into apologizing for statements that aren’t necessarily wrongful. It’s not just about rectifying an immediate wrong but also about building a more just and equitable state.
In democracies that sometimes echo authoritarian tendencies, the presence of lawyers committed to defending citizens becomes invaluable. Even the most democratic governments can occasionally act in ways that encroach upon civil liberties. Lawyers stand as the defenders of the rule of law, challenging governmental overreach and ensuring that citizens’ constitutional rights remain intact. By offering both legal aid and essential legal education, these professionals can empower the citizens to speak up confidently, reinforcing the pillars of democracy. Essentially, in democracies that show signs of authoritarian drift, such lawyers can serve as a safeguard against potential government overreaches.
It’s time for these lawyers, with the backing of the public, to remind Manipur’s lawmakers—many of whom have lost the title of ‘Honorable’ in the eyes of their constituents in this conflict, the true essence of democracy.
It’s time to show who’s the real boss.

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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