Guwahati: Days after his name appeared on The Wire for being a surveillance target of NSO’s Pegasus spyware, Delhi-based Manipuri writer Malem Ningthouja said he knew he was being watched for his academic writings for long.

Speaking to EastMojo over video conferencing, Ningthouja said, “It was not a surprise at all. As an academician and activist, I have been subjected to various surveillance in past. I was suspecting prolonged surveillance on me and my work.” 

He said surveillance is not new to him but was shocked to know the use of technology like Pegasus. “Any individual who is committed to write and raise a democratic voice is bound to face such surveillance. But the use of this technology was new to me,” he added.

An alumnus of Hindu College, Ningthouja was active as a student leader in Delhi. When I was a student, I was very active on various civil and democratic rights issues. I interacted with various people whose ideas and voices might have been considered as a threat by whosoever comes to power. For those reasons, the state and its machinery saw me with suspicion,” he said.

Also Read | Pegasus: Key leaders of NSCN (IM), AASU, ULFA figure in snoop list

“We come from a region where the insurgency has been active for many decades. Whoever raises questions on nationality, population, migration, or globalization is kept on surveillance,” he added. 

 “These things (snooping) have been continued from the time immemorial. Anybody who is in power will keep an eye on those who do not speak in favour of them. It is a continuation of the past, be it Congress and BJP. It is inherited,” he said.

A historian and academician, Ningthouja has authored three books on contemporary issues. “I write on various contemporary issues and historical past. This means I’ll question many controversial issues. In my books, I have raised many questions vis-à-vis the Indian state and its policy in the Northeast,” he said. 

“My activism and academic works are somewhat interconnected. The government wants to know what I am doing, who I am connected to, where I am leading,” he added.

Asked if his interaction with Manipur-based underground insurgents for writing on contemporary issues drew attention towards him, he said, “Without information, I cannot write on presumptions. I try to get access to information that is in the custody of various sections such as the government, civil society, undergrounds, intelligence (agencies) and political parties. Connecting people and interacting with sources is part of academic exercise.”

His number was believed to be selected as a possible candidate for surveillance in mid-2019, The Wire reported. 

“As a historian, I feel it is normal for the state to keep vigilance. Chanakya’s whole idea of Arthashastra talks about vigilance. The government is failing on many fronts, and there are reactions from different sections of people in various ways. So, they will have to intensify the force of vigilance. After all, with the information they get, they mechanize the policy,” he said.

Also Read | ‘Project Pegasus’ exposes snooping of journos, activists, politicians across India

“But as an individual, I feel very insecure because it is an obstruction to what I believed from the ideology, activism and writings,” he added. 

The Wire reported, “The entry of his (Malem Ningthouja) number in the leaked data was also when Thokchom Veewon, an advisor to MSAD, was arrested by a joint team of Delhi Police and Manipur Police.”

Refuting such claims, he said, “There is no connection between my surveillance and the arrest of the student leader. It was in a different context. They are not interlinked.”

Asked if he remembers any particular incidents why his number might have been added, he said, “The listing doesn’t come out all of a sudden. They have been looking for quite long on my academic work and writings. I exactly don’t remember when I would have attracted them.”

“I knew I have been under their radar. In regards to voice tapping and all, I could sense it. Unnecessary advertising and cross-connection are quite frequent. I don’t discuss anything unconstitutional,” he said.

Since the report was published on The Wire, Ningthouja’s broadband connection and access to the Zoom video conferencing platform has been having issues for the last two days. “We are bound to suspect,” he adds.

Ningthouja says he won’t change the phone even after knowing his phone is under surveillance. “I have not changed my phone and phone number. I am not a criminal and I won’t run away. I have retained my phone number for 15 years. I am quite open like an institution.”

Also Read | Attempt to malign Indian democracy, says IT Minister on Project Pegasus



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