Welcome back to the world of Journalism! You were arrested because of a video you posted on Facebook in which you questioned the state government’s decision to celebrate the birth anniversary of Jhansi Rani. Even after the release I have noticed people questioning you for you used ‘f words’. Even the journalist unions very diplomatically kept themselves away from this because of the f words. Now you are back, you are free, out of jail. How do you look at the entire support structure that worked while you were in jail?
First of all I would like to thank the judiciary system, the High Court of Manipur for upholding the fundamental rights and Constitution, specifically the freedom of speech, I would like to thank all who supported me and who have extended their cooperation throughout the case, student leaders, women’s organizations, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists etc.
Many people say that I am a habitual offender because I was arrested in August last year during the Manipur university protests then again in November, the point is,
I will be straight forward here, the BJP government both in the centre and the state at the behest of the RSS, is actually indulging in the process of cultural and religious assimilation of smaller minority groups like mine, I belong to a very small religious minority group in Manipur, Sanamahism.
The cultural and religious assimilation that this government is indulging in this state is a threat to us. And moreover the present government in the state more often they have tried to distort the historical facts of the state and try to impose the historical facts of the mainland India, like in my case what happened.
Why I was against the celebration of the birth anniversary of Rani Jhansi? When Sepoy mutiny took place in 1857 Manipur was an independent nation. When Sepoy Mutiny took place Manipur was not even annexed or conquered by the British. If we go on celebrating the birth anniversary of those who have contributed for the Indian freedom struggle forgetting our own freedom fighters, that would actually make our younger generation diverting from the historical facts of our own state,
and what I say is we need to remind the younger generation of the freedom fighters of the state, we can talk about the freedom fighters of India that is not a problem but we shouldn’t forget the sacrifice of our own people and our own history.
I realize that the words I used are un-parliamentary, I apologize but I also request the people of Manipur and of India to rather forget those words I used and try to understand my anger or my outburst. What happened is, just a month after my arrest the BJP government tried to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill. That was an attempt to alarm my people. Lot of people took me wrong because of the words I used. Ever since the BJP came to power in Manipur and the centre there has been a lot of incidents of suppression of freedom of speech and expression, not just in Manipur but everywhere in India.
I am not the first person to get arrested for such a case, there are lot of other people who are threatened by the authority, by police, who got arrested for commenting on social media against the government. I felt as a journalist and as a human rights defender, by virtue of being a journalist, I felt I should do something so that the government should learn a lesson and it should stop doing such things. In the first case if I had gone to the chief minister and say sorry of course the matter should have been resolved, but that will give the government another chance to suppress dissenting voice. Therefore I never said sorry, the organization that approached the CM requesting my release put the condition that I would apologize and resolve the issue, that was a condition of my release, the party who worked for my release was on my behalf and also assured personally Kishore will come and apologize to you, that was the assurance given, I heard it later on. I was asked to go meet him, but I said I can’t because that’s against my integrity, my professionalism I would never do that. Somehow we were misguided. Only after my release I came to know that there was such a condition.
The day I posted the video about celebrating the birth anniversary of Jhansi Rani, I came to office in the morning shift. I was editing the news and I was not really happy with the kind of speech the CM was giving on that occasion. He was distorting the history of Manipur and the focus was on the mainland freedom struggle. I am not saying I am against it, but that would have been avoided, otherwise younger generation will go on remembering Rani Jhansi, Bala Gangadhar Tilak etc and forget our heroes, that’s what I didn’t want. Just after the editing I made the live video on my Facebook.
Many journalists from the mainland who are known as rights defenders were silent about your case. There was no public outcry about such an aggressionby the BJP led government. Ranjita had mentioned once how did it work in Manipur itself among various journalist unions. What did you feel about it? The response from entire journalistic fraternity… does it exist?
In my first case, journalist fraternity in the state had already told me that I shouldn’t repeat such things future, in case if I do that again they would not cooperate. I said okay, there is nothing wrong in that. I don’t have much to say about lack of help from the journalists unions in my state. But I am not quite happy about the allegation that I am not a journalist, or I am not a member of the union. That really shows they are not ready to stand by the truth, they are actually with the government. They just want to make sure that they don’t face such harsh punishments from the government. I think they just back off. In my first case, the journalist fraternity in the state apologized and also asked me to apologize to the state, which was against my integrity.
What is your next plan?
Very good question. I will continue working as a journalist. I will also contribute whatever I can in the fight to safeguard human rights. Because you must be knowing, North East is a region where such torture is going on. I will try to do my best, I will try to use my profession to speak through against the torture and harassment going on. I will defend freedom of speech and expression. My case is an example by which both the government and people learn a lesson. People should understand if anyone has anything to say he or she must say it without fear. You shouldn’t be forced to keep silent. On the other hand the government also must learn in case anyone speaks against the government, criticize the government the government should take it positively, the government should take it constructively. It is not necessary to misuse the power and impose some sections of the IPC or sedition charge or NSA unnecessarily because that will back fire the government. They should also learn that this is a democratic country and every citizen has the right to say anything against the government. Democracy will flourish if criticism is accepted. Without criticism no government can do good things. Criticism should be accepted, no government can impose harsh law against those who are speaking up against the government. I will continue fighting for the defense of the human rights and the freedom of speech and expression.
I think the court has done what it should have done. This should be an example throughout the country and anywhere any such cases pending in the court the court must take my case as example and give the justice as soon as possible.
As the election is nearing the BJP coming again on power is in question. While you were behind jail the North East region was raging against in mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill proposed by the BJP. How do you look at this particular context?
Well, I can’t impose my will or whim to any individual or any voter it is their right to exercise their power on vote. There are people who say that I might join a political party after released from the jail but that is wrong. I am not in a mindset to join any political party, I will continue working as a journalist. But there are lot of arguments and debates about the incumbent government in the centre, this is a fascist government. What I can say according to me the present government is autocratic. Even if they come to power, that is in the hands of the people, they should try to amend their policies and their activities.
The institutional democracy is not safe under this regime, I have no power to change the government myself, if they come again in power in 2019 election my only request is respect human rights, respect freedom of speech and expression and the democracy will prevail and shouldn’t try to impose any will or whim over the citizen of the country.
I would like to send out this message to the people of Manipur and the people of India that it is in the hand of the youth to bring change and I don’t think there is better time than this so just be conscious of what you do and never be afraid of speaking out your own ideas and opinions. Those will bring changes here.