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How Manipur hounds Kuki intellectuals

Updated on: 21 August,2023 06:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

3 civil society leaders have been charged with outraging religious feelings, promoting enmity between groups after they articulated their community’s viewpoint on brutal conflict in media interviews

How Manipur hounds Kuki intellectuals

A still from Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing’s June 17 interview. Pic/Youtube

Ajaz AshrafA sinister method of silencing civil society leaders and public intellectuals is emerging in Manipur, where criminal complaints have been filed against three of them for their media interviews. All three are Kuki. All three articulated their community’s viewpoint on the social conflict in Manipur. All three have been accused, under different sections of the Indian Penal Code, of outraging religious feelings and promoting enmity between social groups.

The three entangled in the criminal cases are Dr Mary Grace Zou, the convenor of the Kuki Women’s Forum; Wilson L Hangsing, the co-founder of the Kuki People’s Alliance; and Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a professor of political science at University of Hyderabad. Of the three, Hausing is arguably the most well known outside Manipur, for the erudite pieces he has written, for years, on the Northeast.

I focus on Hausing as his case raises the question: can a person analysing contradictory claims of two social groups, locked in a bitter conflict, be accused of promoting communal discord even when her/his arguments favourable to the community s/he belongs to are backed by data and historical documents?

Hausing was interviewed by Karan Thapar on June 17. In response, Moirangthem Manihar Singh filed a criminal complaint against Hausing in the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) court, Imphal East. On July 6, social media was abuzz with an extract from the CJM’s summons, well before the formal order was passed on July 10 and despatched by snail mail, asking Hausing to appear in person or be represented by a pleader on July 28.

This had Hausing move the Supreme Court for quashing the CJM’s order. In the court, Hausing’s lawyer argued that he feared going to Imphal as there were no Kukis left there. The court gave him protection from coercive action for 14 days, during which it said he can apply for relief.

On a parallel track, on August 1, acting on a complaint filed by Khomdram Manikanta Singh, the CJM court, Imphal West, ordered the police to investigate whether Hausing submitted fabricated documents to get himself registered in the 2005 electoral roll of the Churachandpur Assembly constituency. Suspicions about fabrication arose, the complainant proffered, as the name of Hausing’s father had never figured in Manipur’s electoral roll. He also thought the professor’s name “appeared to be a foreign name” that is not used by Kukis in Manipur.

As this complaint made the rounds of social media, Hausing shot back, saying his father was a government school teacher from 1966 and died in 1989. Ghosts can’t vote, can they? The police investigation will, in effect, determine whether Hausing is an illegal immigrant!

Moirangthem is a member of the Meitei Tribe Union, which petitioned the high court on the issue of getting the Scheduled Tribe status for the Meiteis. His accusation against Hausing for causing communal enmity is based on the professor’s description, to Thapar, about the process of sacralisation through which the Biren Singh government grabs Kuki territory.

In December 2017, Biren Singh laid the foundation stone of the Maharaja Chandrakirti Memorial Park at Chibu, to commemorate a battle in which the Meiteis trumped the Kuki-Zomi people. But the victory, as Hausing wrote in a 2017 article, was really that of the British, whose commander took the support of the Meitei ruler. There were three stone slabs erected to honour a British and two Meitei commanders.

The park opened old wounds, worsened further by implanting in 2022, according to Hausing, a stone monolith of Thangjing, a god of the Meiteis. In the same year, Koubru was declared as the Laipham, or the seat of the principal god of the Meiteis. From Jerusalem to Ayodhya to Varanasi, communities claim a spot is sacred to them in order to wrest its possession from others. Moirangthem found Hausing’s explanation insulting to the religious beliefs of Meiteis.

Moirangthem, in fact, found communal overtones in just about every answer of Hausing, such as his claim that it were the Meiteis who triggered the conflict, that they constituted 60 per cent of drug traders nabbed since 2017, and that it is false to claim that Kukis from Myanmar have flooded Manipur. Moirangthem also hit Hausing with Section 505 (1), which, among other things, declares as an offence a statement made to prevent soldiers or officers from carrying out their duty. Section 505 (1) was invoked because Hausing said the demand to not post Meitei army officers in Kuki territories was justified. At this point, unfortunately, Thapar butted in, “Let us not communalise our answers.”

Questions on communal situations can only beget answers liable to be interpreted as communal. As social conflicts based on identity occur with a disheartening frequency, analyses without weighing the conflicting demands of communities will be superficial. Such analyses cannot be dubbed as divisive as long as these are based on verifiable facts. It may just be a point to ponder why no criminal complaints have been filed against civil society leaders of Meiteis, who, too, have frothed and fumed against Kukis in media interviews. Is it because majoritarianism has become just too overwhelming in India?

The writer is a senior journalist

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