New Delhi: Three people – a leading academic and two Kuki activists – have been summoned by an Imphal court in cases filed by Meitei activists who alleged that statements made by them in the course of recent interviews to The Wire had inflamed communal passions.
The three are Prof Kham Khan Suan Hausing, head of the University of Hyderabad’s political science department; Mary Grace Zou, convenor of the Kuki Women’s Forum; and Wilson Lalam Hangshing, general secretary of the Kuki People’s Alliance. The three were interviewed by Karan Thapar as part of a series of programmes on the crisis in Manipur that The Wire has published since May, 2023.
Prof Hausing was summoned by the Imphal East district court on July 6 after its chief judicial magistrate, Ashem Tarunakumari Devi, took cognisance of complaints made against him by Manihar Moirangthem Singh, a member of the Meitei Tribes Union (MTU).
The MTU is the organisation that secured the Manipur high court’s order to the state government that it recommend Scheduled Tribe status for the state’s Majority Meitei community. This order ultimately resulted in Manipur’s ongoing violence, which has left at least 150 people dead and over 40,000 displaced.
The complaints against Prof Hausing invoke various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 153A, which deals with promoting enmity between different groups; 295A, which deals with acts outraging religious feelings; and 501 (1), which deals with printing defamatory material.
In his interview on June 17, Prof Hausing told Karan Thapar that in order to resolve the deep-seated issues underlying the persisting violence in the state, Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh must resign from office and a separate administration must be created for the minority Kuki community.
According to the magistrate, Manihar Singh alleged in his complaint that Prof Hausing “made derogatory remarks against holy religious sites associated historically with the Meitei community” and tried to defame the Meiteis.
Hausing has been directed by the district court to respond to a notice served to him by July 28.
The Wire reached out to him for comment but did not immediately receive a response. However, in a tweet he put out on July 7 he said:
If a majoritarian state and its regime chose to use its coercive monopoly of power to silence truth and violate human rights with impunity, we have to remain united, reclaim and fight for these #ManipurViolence @UNCHRSS @ABC @CNN @BBCWorld
— Kham Khan Suan Hausing (@kksuanh) July 7, 2023
A student organisation within the political science department of the University of Hyderabad named ‘Communitas’ has issued a statement condemning the court’s actions against Hausing, noting the threat they pose to his academic freedom as well as personal safety.
“Prof Kham Khan Suan Hausing is a notable scholar on North-east India and has been writing on the issues pertaining to the North-east for a long time and with great nuance,” the statement said. “Various scholars have engaged with his commentary both in agreement and otherwise, as is the norm in academia. However, charging him under various sections accusing him of promoting enmity, defaming religious sentiments and engaging in criminal conspiracy is not only a serious threat to his academic freedom but also is a threat to his physical security considering the volatile situation.”
Kuki activists targeted
The Imphal East district court summoned Zou and Hangshing on June 30 after the magistrate took cognisance of similar accusations levelled against them by Lourembam Cha Somerendro, a man who claims to be a social worker, the Hindu reported.
Zou spoke to Karan Thapar on June 14 about the difficulties faced by the state’s Kuki community as a result of the violence. She also supported the call for chief minister Biren Singh to resign as well as for a separate administration for the Kuki community.
In his interview on May 26, Hangshing, who belongs to the pro-BJP Kuki People’s Alliance, told Thapar that chief minister Singh allegedly allowed an MLA’s home to be burned by mobs, and said that the Kukis would fight for a separate administrative unit.
In his complaint, Somerendro alleged that Zou and Hangshing “falsely” blamed Meitei mobs for starting the ongoing violence in Manipur and chief minister Biren Singh for being complicit in the violence.
“The very statement of Mary Grace Zou is totally false and fabricated which shall amount to communal enmity and hatred between the Meitei and Kuki communities,” the Imphal Times quoted Somerendro as saying in his complaint. He added that Hangshing also made false statements in order to promote enmity between different groups.
The magistrate said that “prima facie materials exist for the commission of offences under 153A, 200, 505 (1) sections” by Zou and Hangshing, and asked them to appear in court on July 24.
Action against book author
In another instance, the Manipur home department has asked the police to take action against member(s) of the Zomi Students’ Federation Union who published the book The Inevitable Split: Documents on State sponsored ethnic cleansing in Manipur, 2023. The police has also been told to ensure that further publication of the book is banned.