New Delhi: Activists have called for an early release of Manipur journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem who was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) for criticising Manipur CM N Biren Singh and hurling abuses at BJP and RSS in a viral social media video in November last year.
He is currently lodged at the Sajiwa Central Jail in Imphal East.
Eminent jurist and former chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI) Markanday Katju went so far as to call for the social boycott of CM Singh over the arrest. Citing the other instances of attacks on freedom of expression in states such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu in the past, Katju asked if the political class had lost its rectitude.
“Have politicians lost their moral balance? People of Manipur must show the way by boycotting all the social events of the chief minister,” he said at a press conference and public meeting organised by the lawyers’ collective, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), at the Press Club in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Addressing the gathering, Wangkem's wife Ranjita Elangbam appealed for civil society's support in securing her husband’s release. “I need all your support as I come from a middle-class background,” she said.
Elangbam informed that during her last visit to the prison her spouse had denounced the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and expressed his apprehensions over the danger of the indigenous culture getting swallowed by Hinduism. She was also critical of the personal attacks on her spouse in the social media.
Wangkhem (39) was first arrested on November 20 last year for uploading a video in which he criticised CM Singh over a function organised on the birth anniversary of Rani of Jhansi on November 19. He was arrested after the video went viral on social media.
Less than 24 hours after he was granted bail by a CJM court in West Imphal on November 26, Wangkhem was arrested again on November 27, this time under the NSA.
Here’s the video:
Repeal draconian laws
The meeting was organised in association with the Delhi chapter of the Manipur Students’ Association (MSAD). Thockchom Veewon, the Delhi state president of MSAD, declared, “I speak here as an individual who is Manipuri first and Indian citizen second. When I say that I am Manipuri first, I firmly believe that I am rather a subject than a citizen of this nation.”
Veewon held that freedom in Manipur’s context was about the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and removal of military presence from the university campus.
Shreeji Bhavsar, the lawyer for the accused journalist, opined, “The National Security Act is a replica of the colonial-era National Security Ordinance and in a democratic society like India it is unacceptable that a journalist and political or civil rights activists should be detained under the Act.”
HRLN founder and senior Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonsalves pointed out that even the act of privately expressing dissent against the crown at the dining table could result in a criminal action and stiff punishment. However, the apex court’s judgment in the landmark Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962 had redefined sedition under Section 124A IPC, which was enacted in 1870.
“The interpretation given by the Supreme Court in subsequent judgments say that it is not thought alone that is punishable; it is thought plus action to implement those thoughts,” Gonsalves said.
Sabina Inderjit, general secretary, Indian Journalist Union (IJU), and senior journalist Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty also expressed their solidarity with Wangkhem.
Recognise the contribution of local heroes
The other issue that has often rankled the intelligentsia from the Northeastern region is either absence or insufficient recognition to the contribution made by the local heroes in the rest of the country. Time and again there have been demands to include the lives of people like Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaindinliu (Manipur), Lachit Borphukan, Kanaklata Baruah, Kushal Konwar and Gopinath Bordoloi (Assam), Moje Riba (Arunachal Pradesh), and Tirot Sing (Meghalaya) in school and university history textbooks.
In February last year, a 12-year-old Assam schoolgirl Aaira Goswami made national headlines after a handwritten letter by her to the Prime Minister urging inclusion of the history of the region went viral on social media.
Meanwhile, the habeas corpus petition filed by HRLN in Wangkhem’s case seeking his release is listed for hearing on February 1 in the Manipur High Court at Imphal.