ABDUL GANI | 8 FEBRUARY, 2019
“Its tough but I will not give up.”
For Ranjita Elangbam, the battle is tough but she is determined to win it. Ranjita, wife of journalist Kishorechnadra Kishorechandra Wangkhem who was jailed under the National Security Act for a post seen to criticise Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh December last year.
“It’s tough, very tough to fight the battle all alone. But I’m not tired. I will fight and emerge victorious,” Ranjita told The Citizen as she waited outside the Sajiwa Central Jail in Imphal East where Wangkhem is.
On November 21, 2018 Wangkhem, then working as an anchor-desk editor with ISTV, a local news channel, was arrested by Imphal West Police in response to a video he uploaded on social media, criticising the BJP-led state government.
In Meitei language, he severely condemned the state chief minister N. Biren Singh for organising a function to commemorate the fight of the Rani of Jhansi against the British and linking it to the freedom movement of Manipur.
He was arrested under sections 294 and 500 of the IPC in addition to section 124 A, which deal with sedition. However, on being produced before a local court on November 26, he was released on bail.
Wangkhem was arrested again on November 27, this time under the NSA that was evoked by the state to circumvent the courts.
Ranjita, mother of two minor daughters, said that she wants to make the case an example of freedom of expression.
“Today, it’s him (Wangkhem), tomorrow will be someone else. There is a fear among the people to express what they believe. But I want everyone to join this battle so that freedom of expression remains intact in our country,” Ranjita said.
Ranjita has also rued that they didn’t get the support they should have got from Wangkhem’s fellow journalists in Manipur.
“Indian Journalists Union and Press Council of India have been helpful. Two media houses and journalists have been helping at their personal level in Manipur but I think there should have been more voices raised in protest against the arrest,” said Ranjita who works as an occupational therapist in a district hospital in Manipur.
Since Wangkhem has been arrested and kept in Jail by the police, Ranjita along with her two daughters have been living in her sister in law’s house.
Ranjita has termed the entire episode as mental harassment and said her husband was labelled a ‘womaniser, alcoholic and even abusive’ as part of the propaganda. “It is unbearable for me and my two daughters,” she said.
Human Rights Law Network’s (HRLN) Shreeji Bhavsar who is also a Supreme Court lawyer said that the NSA 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.
Thokchom Veewon, former president of Manipur Students Association (MSA), Delhi, said that people in Manipur have been living in fear psychosis over the last several years after the BJP government in power.
“People are already suffering under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for decades and now all these. Kishorechandra has been arrested intentionally by the BJP government to stop his voice. Anyone would face similar situation if dared to speak against the establishment and question the authority,” Thokchom told The Citizen.
He also said that the BJP government is scared of the people’s voice and so the government had put a ban on the internet two times for five days each in the last several months.
“Even kids in their teens have become a threat for the government. This is fascism,” Thokchom said.
Thokchom expresed shock about the role of the local media in this case.
Senior BJP leader and party spokesperson Tikendra Singh, however, said that it’s completely wrong interpretation of ‘freedom of speech’.
“He crossed all the limits. This is not freedom of speech. Every Indian should try to follow the constitution strictly but that particular person crossed the limit. And this is not the first time. This is the third time and he had started doing this habitually. Under such circumstances, the government shouldn’t be silent,” Singh told The Citizen.
“Manipur has become such a state where in the name of freedom of speech, everybody has become something wild and started saying all these things without having any information and knowledge of the constitution and law and order. Under such circumstances, how can a state continue to exist?” Singh added.
Meanwhile in Assam, it is reported that at least 245 cases of offences against the state, including sedition,have been lodged since the BJP came to power in the Assembly 2016.