By - Mr. Pakinrichapbo (Advocate)
What I learned from arbitrary detention of Journalist Mr. Kishorchandra Wangkhem.
The arbitrary detention of journalist Kishorchandra Wangkhem, post his social media rant on facebook by the Manipur Government has so many angles entwined where citizens from mainland India need to ponder and study what really provoked him to protest in a manner he did. What Mr. Kishorchandra did may be wrong morally in terms of using abusive words, showing sign language but his detention after being released on bail by District Magistrate Imphal West under National Security Act 1980, had received nationwide condemnation from Indian Journalist Union, Press Council of India, Human Rights Law Network New Delhi, National Television News Channel like Mirror Now, Social Activist etc for official abuse of power by the Manipur Government. Quoting from HRLN New Delhi press release titled HRLN condemns published in Sangai Express dated 26.12.18. Dr. Colin Gonsalves Founder of HRLN and Supreme Court Senior Advocate stated that “F” word used in swearing is a part of the freedom of speech and expression. He further explained that it is lawfully used and is justifiably used as well and that the attempt of the State Government to arrest such a person is totally wrong. Dr. Colin further reasoned that not only should Kishorchandra be able to get bail but the prosecution should be quashed as well. The use of swear words is totally permissible under the Constitution of India.
To really understand what freedom of speech and expression in a democratic country is, Indian state officials, heads of state must watch and learn from American TV shows such as The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel Live, SNL, late Night with Seth Myers etc. where cast members of the shows routinely mock, insult its President Donald J Trump for his government policies, twitter rant, happenings in his personal lives, his appearance, behaviour and so on. And also implement programs to improve India current ranking of 138 positions in World Press Freedom Index run by Reporters without Borders- lower than Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar, can you imagine the unchecked hypocrisy of world largest democracy.
Kishorechandra in his video countering Manipur Government decision to organize birth anniversary celebration of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhanshi bluntly pointed that Indian Freedom Fighter Rani of Jhansi has nothing to do with Manipur History or its upliftment accused the Manipur CM of sidelining freedom fighters from Manipur who fought against the British colonial power. No Indians can devalue the contributions of Rani Lakshmibai towards Indian Freedom struggle but citizens from mainland ought to know that social political settings are different in the northeast region especially states like Manipur and Nagaland with long history of political unrest where major ethnic groups still harbours theories of ethnic nationalism in addition to lack of emphasis of Northeast region history including the people with diverse culture, languages and traditions, also its importance cut out from mainstream Indian education system worsened by racial discriminations faced by north-eastern tribal’s in mainland India, the reason why rest of India knew little of Northeast region and its people except for certain journalist from mainland who reports on Northeast regions. Had Central Government taken a different approach in dealing with the people of northeast especially Manipur, I believe all the citizens of Manipur would have willing celebrated birth anniversary of any freedom fighters from other part of India but how did the representatives of Government of India such as the para military forces deal with the people?
It unleashed terror not sparing civilians from militants, its state government since its merger with union of India running the day to day affairs like a police state, under such ground reality, New Delhi cannot expect the theory of unity in diversity to work in Manipur. Had the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai organized in other North-Eastern States like Nagaland or Mizoram, reaction of the people from these two states would send out clear message on whether they are in same boat with Kishorchandra in matter of preserving its region distinct history.
Taking the instances of Mizo students’ bodies groups which strongly opposed the Central Government plan to honour Khuangchera as an Indian Freedom Fighter, a tribal Mizo freedom fighter who was killed in 1890 resisting the British Expansion into Lushai country citing that though he fought against the British he was not defending India as the idea of Unified India didn’t exist then. In my view, such historical facts should not be manipulated to integrate the tribal’s from Northeast region with the mainstream which patriotic Indians love to do creating more resentment than integration.
Few years ago in a State Level Advocates Conference held in Dimapur Nagaland which I attended, a Supreme Court Advocate in his lecture cunningly mention that people in whole northeast region was practicing Hinduism before the arrival of Christian Missionaries in tribal areas. A learned individual lied in public forum without any iota of shame showing his Hindu chauvinism. The fact is that Hindu Brahmin never ventured into inaccessible hills inhabited by different tribal groups who were following their forefather’s faith totally different from the Sanatana Dharma and Vaidika Dharma the basis of Hindu religion. Also read introduction part by Shri. Ranjit Mooshahari and former Governor of Meghalaya on Understanding North East India, Cultural Diversities, Insurgency and Identities edited by Madhu Rajput. Therefore my analysis of Mr. Kishorchandra citing historical angle to protest is that such protest will occurs again if citizens feel their state distinct history is taken for granted and not given equal respect.
In today’s India, who had not voice out against the ideologies and policies of right wing Hindu extremists? Take the example of journalist Late Gauri Lankesh, who was gunned down for voicing out against Hindu fundamentalist groups, writer activist Arundhati Roy who is among the first critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP and the RSS. If a citizen loses their right to criticise head of a country without any fear of arrest, can we still consider it a rule of democratically elected government or a tyrant monarch who does not tolerate any form of dissent.
Maybe calling the Chief Minister a puppet of Prime Minister has really hurt the ego of the Chief Minister and so he wanted to show who the head in the state is. Whatever be the circumstances, every adult with minimal understanding of functioning of national political party, centre-state relations knows that head of any state do act on the direction of head of political party in certain issues.
Sedition and Secessionist Angle
The detention of Kishorchandra has once again open up anti-national debate in the country this time in Manipur after the JNU campus fiasco in 2016 where its student leaders namely Kanaihya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Ram Naga, Anant Prakash Narayan and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested on sedition charges on account of being anti-national raising antinational slogans. Their arrest was followed by widespread protests. What relate Kishorchandra with JNU student’s leaders was that they all spoke out against Modi BJP Government and automatically became anti-national in the eye of the government. But the Manipur Government went too extreme by invoking provisions of Sec. 13 of NSA Act even after the Magistrate released the journalist on bail stating that his statements did not seem to disturb the peace thereby his action not worthy of jail time under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
I felt fortunate to had access to edited version of the video under the caption, Why NSA? Where it justified the legal action of the Manipur Government as the journalist words ‘present freedom strugglers of Manipur’ is full of secessionist idea and against the unity, integrity and nationalism of India. My argument is that for how long the GOI and respective state government would continue to harass civilians by quickly tagging anti nationalists status on anyone who voice opinion against the government yet do little or nothing on existing militants organizations which function as parallel governments and why ethnic nationalism exist in the first place in northeast regions? Government policies to harass arrest civilians when it could not settle with the main actors shows that even after 70 years of India independence, GOI have not learn their lesson well. Colonial approach in place of soft power approach towards complex northeast region with presence of multiple ethnic nationalist militant organizations would not improve the situations.
Lastly, irrespective of the outcome of Higher Court ruling, twelve month detention without proper trial has made Kishorchandra a true fearless crusader of the idea of free speech of our time who has now support from nook and corner of India. And the people need to stand with him now to defend democracy in Manipur.
Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 15+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents.