JNU research scholar accuses Manipur of harassing Pangal Muslims in newspaper article, state government responds with author's arrest
Chingiz Khan, a scholar of medieval history was first detained on 9 April and subsequently slapped with various sections of the Indian Penal Code which pertain to sedition, promoting enmity, public mischief and criminal conspiracy respectively.
The Manipur Police arrested Chingiz Khan on 10 April — a research scholar at country's premier Jawaharlal Nehru University on the charges of sedition for writing a piece showing systematic persecution of Pangal Muslims in Manipur.
Khan, a scholar of medieval history was first detained on 9 April and subsequently slapped with various sections of the Indian Penal Code 124-A/153-A/505/120-B which pertain to sedition, promoting enmity, public mischief and criminal conspiracy respectively. His six days police custody ends on 14 April after which he would be produced in the court.
The article published in Manipur daily, Ichel Express, Political Ploy to Drive Muslims Out is a translated version of the 2019 report in The Pioneer which talked about the eviction of almost 400 Pangal Muslims from Kshetri Bengoon Mamang Awang Ching.
The report said, "The villagers settled here in 1970 (in internal migration) but the government claimed that these people illegally encroached reserve forest area. The state used cops for evicting and pulling down the houses, "despite the Manipur High Court's order to delay the process."
Muslims settled in Manipur in the first decade of the 17th century by migrating from the western part of Manipur, namely Bengal and Silchar.
"Islam came to Manipur before Hinduism," said Thokchom Veewon, a research scholar at Mizoram University, but in the next century, in the 1720s, King Pamheiba, who had another name Gharib Nawaz "introduced Hinduism as the state religion of his kingdom" — Kangleipak, and changed its name to Manipur — a Sanskrit word which means an abundance of jewel. "Pangal got its name from rhyming Bengal."
"The Pangals have been marginalised through constant engagement," said Babloo Loitongbam, a human rights defender from Manipur. However, it is not in isolation, he added, "but, the intersectionality of persecutions of Muslims and shrinking of democratic space" by a government which does not allow criticism.
The Pangals are in minority now and the government wants to take away their land in areas such as Mantripukhri, and particularly after the 1993 massacre of Pangals by the majority Meitei in which above 100 Muslims and four Meitei was killed, Pangals feel vulnerable. Ironically, the High Court of Manipur was established in 2013 in Mantripukhri itself.
Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014 was invoked in the case of "acquisition of homestead patta land belonging to the minority community for the construction of MLA quarters in the Mantripukhri area to evict Muslims from their land. How could an MLA quarter preserve the same paddy ground and the Muslim homestead ruin it? However, particularly the non-Pangal lands remained untouched.
In 2018, the state government proposed a bill—Protection of Manipuri People which would ban the entry of "illegal migrants with an emphasis on Rohingyas, leaving other migrant communities aside".
The Pangals were blamed for giving them asylum which created a communally-charged environment against Muslims. The chronicle led to mob-justices including "lynching of Md Farooque Khan from Lilong Mayai Leikai, Thoubal district in Manipur". This led to the passing of the Manipur Protection from Mob Violence 2018 in the state Assembly.
Meitei consists of different clans forming a majority and maximum of them seek to revert to their ancient religious beliefs and practices. After the May 1993 massacre of Muslims, there seems to have emerged a distinct gap between the two communities.
"Reconstruction of harmony and peace-building initiatives from both sides have not been very fruitful, as if the massacre triggered a chain reaction which could be seen in outlook and perceptions, cultural exchanges and to an extent in traditional labour relations," said another scholar seeking anonymity.
Public spheres have shifted in subtle ways.
"Different processes of changes in both parties led to the reification of identities and social boundaries. The origin of many of these developments can be traced implicitly or explicitly to the massacre of 1993," he said.
The state government granted 4 percent reservation in government jobs and higher education to the Manipuri Muslim community, especially for admission to professional study programs in Manipur. It could be called an acceptance of the Pangal's systemic persecutions. Nevertheless, it was never enforced.
Also, after 12 years of affirmative action policy, the number of first-class officials, second-class officials and third-class officials is far below 8.4 percent (the percentage of the Muslim population in Manipur).
Manipur’s total population in 2011 was 28,55,794, of which 2,39,836 were Muslims (including the non-Pangal migrant Muslims who came in the late 19th century or in the early 20th century to Manipur).
"The increase of Manipur’s total population around 4.94 times during 1951-2011 was slightly higher than that of the Hindus (3.4 times), lower than the Muslims (6.45 times). The Christians added 17.24 times," Khan wrote.
The article also stated that the other parts of society took advantage of the violence of the state against minority Pangal Muslims and forced them to move away from their homes and shops, which violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) principles and particularly Article 3, which said, "Everyone has the right to life, equality and security ...". In fact, Khan also wrote about the custodial death of a policeman in his article— ‘Mysterious’ Death of Policeman in Police Custody.
Not just Khan but many people have been arrested in Manipur within the first 10 days of April 2020. A human rights activist Takhenchangbam Shadishkanta was arrested on 1 April for suggesting a quarantine centre in an unused airstrip. Next day, the cops jailed Khangjrakpam Phajaton Mangang, along with Shadishkanta. Later, the chief of Imphal East police told a digital news outlet that, “Any X or Y cannot say like that about defence land.”
Konsam Victor Singh, an employee at a government-run college was jailed for asking, "Does anybody know how much has Chief Minister Biren contributed to the CM COVID-19 relief fund?" in a Facebook post, which he was asked to delete.
On 3 April, Laifungbam Debabrata Roy, a rights activist and a public health physician, was jailed for a Facebook post which read: “The present Manipur Chief Minister, especially at this time of crisis, should desist from wasting State resources, time and personnel in carrying out any personal political agenda or vendetta. It demeans and belittles the position occupied and the responsibility that entails.”
While others were released or out on bail, Khan continued to be incarcerated. Many demanded his immediate release including Delhi Association of Manipur Muslim Students. It released a statement quoting S Rangarajan v. P Jagjivan Ram case wherein the Supreme Court of India said, "...open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression... In democracy, it is not necessary that everyone should sing the same song.”
Korimayum Joneyziaur Rahman, the general secretary of North East Students' Association of Jamia Millia Islamia said, "There is no seditious or communally inciting element in the article."
Baboo said, "curbing freedom of expression" is a tool towards undemocratisation of society and that "sedition is unconstitutional".
JNUSU president, Aishe Ghosh tweeted a photo of Chingiz holding a book Genghis Khan, authored by Ralph Winston Fox, the British journalist known for his biography of Genghis Khan.
She said in a hashtag "release Chingiz Khan". The All Manipur Muslim Organisations’ Coordinating Committee also demanded his unconditional release. Change.org drove a campaign seeking his release. Numerous organisations of students around the country condemned his arrests and demanded an immediate release.
This is not the first time that a Manipuri scholar or a journalist has been put behind bars. An Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was slapped with the National Security Act for criticising the chief minister.
A student leader Veewon Thokchom was slapped with sedition. In his bail, the high court found no sufficient ground to give ‘prima facie’ for charges slapped against him.
Ironically, the current Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh himself was into journalism and began a vernacular daily Naharolgi Thoudang in 1992 and worked as its editor till 2001.
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