The violence in Manipur starting May 3, 2023, in Churachandpur and still continuing, has complicated causes and sources, but one very clear effect – it is causing untold misery and suffering to the people of Manipur, and harm to the State of Manipur and the Union of India.
The role played by the Government of Manipur (GoM) and the Government of India to establish public peace remains regrettably inadequate, because violence continues even seven weeks later.
On May 31, 2023, Chief of Defence Staff, General Anil Chauhan, opined that the violence in Manipur is primarily a clash between two ethnicities and is not connected with insurgency. The violent conflict – some use the term ‘civil war’ – has economic, ethnic and communal facets. It is clearly a political issue, which must be solved by political means.
GoM needs to proactively employ methods to restore peace by using the accepted political tools of negotiation, dialogue and discussion, between government, elected representatives, and the parties in conflict, to create an atmosphere of public trust. Reactively handling the situation as a law and order issue, and using the forceful methods of State Police, CAPFs and the Army, is proving counter-productive, inasmuch as restoring public peace is concerned.
An atmosphere of trust can be created by disseminating news impartially, to keep the public informed and, more importantly, call for peace between the parties in conflict, so that loss of life and property is stopped, and positive governance is restored
As public violence continues, people are worried about the safety and welfare of relatives and friends, would want to communicate with them, and know what is happening in different parts of the State. The legitimate public need for valid news and information should rightly be supplied by GoM in public and social media. In default, people’s anxieties get amplified to fears and frustrations and are expressed as public anger. People perceive government as incompetent to restore peace or provide them access to genuine news and information. In this atmosphere, GoM has shutdown the internet. Public trust in government has nose-dived.
Instead of politically proactive efforts, GoM has up-scaled the use of State force. Violence continues, even increases, indicating political ineptitude, and further reduces public trust in government.
Over the decades, social unrest and civil violence, especially in our northeastern states and in Jammu & Kashmir, have been due to political-administrative incompetence and governance failures of successive State and Central governments. The reactive use of State force is almost a given and, along with it, States restrict the fundamental rights of people, in the name of restoring the status quo of (mis)governance.
GoM has followed the standard “playbook” of successive earlier governments, and issued a public order which seeks to curtail attempts by any person who, in the opinion of elected or administrative officials of GoM, is generating or spreading fake news, lies or misinformation which can worsen the law and order situation.
GoM Memo No.H-3608/2/2023-HD-HD-Part(1) dated 29 May 2023, titled “Orders of the Governor, Manipur”, signed by Dr.Vineet Joshi, Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, and T.Ranjit Singh, Commissioner (Home), Government of Manipur, reads verbatim as follows:
- Whereas, a number of individuals in responsible positions large followings on social media have been directly involved in generating and/or sharing information in connection with the ongoing law & order situation in the State of Manipur;
- Whereas many of such information have been found to be fake news, lies or misinformation;
- Whereas generation of such wrong information has the potential to worsen the current situation in the State by misguiding public opinion, instigating violence and to rebel against the authority of the State with or without use of arms, leading to death of human lives, casualties on bodies and destruction and damage of properties while the State government is making all efforts to restore peace and normalcy;
- Whereas, such generation or spreading of wrong information will therefore amount to sedition;
- Whereas, such generation or spreading of wrong information is sought to be curtailed;
- Therefore, it is hereby proclaimed that no person will be immune to prosecution under the laws of the country if he/she is found to be generating or spreading fake news, lies or misinformation. The State Government shall not hesitate to act as per law, against those persons found to be generating or sharing or publishing any wrong information which can worsen the current law and order situation in Manipur. Every person, acting individually or on behalf of any group of persons, based within the State of Manipur or outside, shall verify any information before sharing or publishing on any social media platform or through any medium, by means of any tool whatsoever, physical, virtual, audio-visual or electronic.
Thus, without proactively disseminating genuine news and information as it is duty-bound to do, GoM seeks to decide what is“fake news, lies or misinformation”, which “can worsen the current law and order situation in Manipur”, and issues a threat by using the phrase “generation or spreading of wrong information will therefore amount to sedition”.
Judiciary’s and people’s hopes and expectations
GoM is surely well aware that the 11 May 2022 Supreme Court Order [in S.G.Vombatkere versus Union of India] was issued “in the interest of justice”, and includes: “We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration”. In its Order of 29 May 2023, GoM inelegantly tiptoes around the Supreme Court direction.
Although Supreme Court hopes and expects that the State and Central governments will refrain from (the phrase used is “restrain from”) invoking Section 124A, it implicitly permits State and Central governments to register cases under Section 124A.
Even if GoM’s Order only coercively threatens sedition, Supreme Court’s hope and expectation in the interest of justice has been proven futile. Proof is, that Police have registered FIR No.541(06)2023 IPS u/s 124A/153A IPC on 12/06/2023, against Imphal-based politician Jagat Thoudam under Section 124A (sedition) and Section 153A, for “Sedition & promoting enmitybetween different groups”.
Including Section 124A in the FIR against Jagat Thoudam is violation of the directions in Supreme Court’s Order, which can perhaps be enlarged to constitute contempt. In the interest of justice, GoM should rightly have withdrawn Section 124A from the FIR, as being wrongly included, and proceeded against Jagat Thoudam under Section 153A. The attitude of GoM to Apex Court Orders is deeply regrettable. Further, in accordance with the hope and expectation of its compliance with the interests of justice, GoI has failed in its responsibility of directing or at least advising GoM to remove Section 124A from the FIR against Jagat Thoudam.
Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court Order goes further, to say: “If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned Courts for appropriate relief. The Courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India”.
Thus, Jagat Thoudam is “at liberty” to approach High Court of Manipur for relief from the charge under Section 124A, or for seeking bail. That this does nothing to reduce the ‘punishment-by-process’ implicit in charges under Section 124A, may have escaped the attention of Supreme Court, whose order in the interest of justice, GoM has thrown to the winds.
In the fine balance between the “security interests and integrity of the State on the one hand and the civil liberties [sadly not fundamental rights] of citizens on the other”, it is apparent that the Supreme Court’s hopes and expectations of State and Central governments acting in the interest of justice, did not leave its brick-and-mortar premises.
Unless the Judiciary is formally apprised of GoM’s coercive threat and (mis)use of Section 124A, people’s hopes and expectations of justice from an uncaring, cruel Executive may not enter its hallowed precincts.
The author is a Petitioner in the Petitions being heard under S.G.Vombatkere versus Union of India
References already hyperlinked in the text:
- “Is this a turning point?”;<https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/comment/is-this-a-turning-point-1231516.html>; Deccan Herald; June 26, 2023.
- “AFSPA: Criminal misuse for decades; <https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/human-rights/afspa-criminal-misuse-of-law-for-decades/article36542410.ece?homepage=true>; Frontline; Print Edition: October 8, 2021; pp.79-82.
- “Defying Supreme Court Order freezing the sedition provision, FIR under 124A filed against Manipur politician”; <https://theleaflet.in/defying-supreme-court-order-freezing-the-sedition-provision-fir-under-124a-filed-against-manipur-politician/>; The Leaflet; June 24, 2023.
- “Manipur violence: Sedition case against Meitei politician after Assam Rifles complaint”; <https://www.thehindu.com › news › national › meitei-politician-charged-with-sedition-for-defamatory-article-against-assam-rifles › article66977443.ece>; The Hindu; June 16, 2023.
- “Understanding Sedition”; <https://countercurrents.org/2022/06/understanding-sedition/>; Countercurrents.org; June 18, 2022.
Originally published in “The Leaflet” on July 2, 2023, with the title “Dashed hopes and expectations post-sedition in Manipur”