‘They Detained Him Under NSA to Silence Him’: Jailed Manipur Scribe’s Wife Says Govt Instilling Fear in People’s Minds
TV journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem has been detained in Manipur for 12 months for his expletives-filled criticism of the BJP-led state government, state’s Chief Minister N Biren Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RSS.
When you first meet her, the wife of Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem who was taken into custody under the National Security Act in November, appears to be of delicate demeanour, bursting into tears at the flicker of an eye. But beyond Ranjita Elangbam’s outward predicament is a spirited woman, determined to fight for her husband’s freedom of expression.
The 35-year-old has been running from pillar to post along with her two daughters — a toddler and a preschool goer — to seek judicial intervention in her husband's case. “Is it proper to slap NSA on him? I want justice. We want the truth to come out,” she says after visiting her husband in jail, the ‘jail visitor' stamp embossed on her hand. An NSA detainee gets visitors every 15 days. But Ranjita has been permitted visitation only thrice since Kishorechandra has been detained in Manipur’s central jail.
TV journalist Kishorechandra, 39, is being detained in Manipur for 12 months (the maximum permissible detention under NSA) by the state government for his expletives-filled criticism of the BJP-led state government, state’s Chief Minister, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RSS.
Ranjita wants to rid him of the ‘NSA detainee’ tag, arguing that he is not a threat to national security as he was only expressing an opinion. “They have detained him under NSA simply to silence him, to prevent him from criticising the government. In fact, it is to create fear psychosis in the minds of the people by setting an example that if you say something critical of the government you could be thrown in jail,” she says.
Whlie she admits that managing kids and fighting the legal battle singlehandedly is proving to be a big trouble, she says she won’t stop till Kishorechandra is released. “Right now we’re psychologically very stressed out. We have two minor daughters to take care of even as we’re taking the legal recourse. As it so happen, the court is on vacation. It is a long, drawn out legal battle we’re fighting. It is difficult for us,” she says, adding: “But I cannot express my sadness or my worries to him so I have to laugh to give him strength.”
Kishorechandra foul-mouthed the BJP, the State CM, the PM and the RSS for organising a function to commemorate the birth anniversary of Rani Jhansi on November 19 and “ignoring” the state’s own heroes and freedom struggle.
His arrest, under sections IPC 294, 500 and 124A (sedition), was not surprising at all. What was significant was his re-arrest under NSA the very next day.
“He uploaded the video on the November 19 and was arrested on 21st. He was in judicial custody for five days and on the 26th, the chief judicial magistrate released him on bail on the grounds that speaking in abusive language, criticising using expletives is not seditious,” says Ranjita, recalling the sequence of events.
“On the afternoon of 27th, some police personnel in plain clothes came to our home and took him away saying the superintendent of police of Imphal’s West district wants to talk to him. It was only the next morning that we came to know he was slapped with the NSA,” she adds.
Kishorechandra’s legal counsel, Nongmaithem Victor, who has filed a Habeas Corpus challenging the NSA detention, said, “The case is historic on infringement of the rights of a common citizen. We strongly feel that the freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed by Article 19, clause 1 of the Indian constitution, has been totally violated.”
Defending the re-arrest and detention under NSA, the Chief Minister N Biren Singh raised his argument, quoting from Kishorechandra’s controversial video post where the latter says “Rani Jhansi has nothing to do with Manipur” and the present freedom strugglers of Manipur should not be insulted.
Questioning his critics, Singh said: “Are not these words questioning the unity, integrity, sovereignty and nationalism of India? Or are they still mere criticism against me or my party or the prime minister? Is taking legal action against those questioning the unity, integrity, sovereignty and nationalism of India thereby inciting secessionist idea not the duty of government?”
But critics have argued that Kishorechandra’s actions were not "prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of public order" and demanded his unconditional release. Former Press Council of India Chairperson, Justice Markandey Katju, Indian Journalists’ Union and a few student bodies have strongly condemned the use of NSA to detain the journalist. Justice Katju went to extent of describing the Manipur chief minister as “a little dictator.”
Meanwhile, the chief minister said that, “Manipur is witnessing a decline in insurgency activities. In this regard, the video uploaded by Kishorechandra has serious intention to undermine the effort of the government to curb insurgency but incites and propagates the secessionist idea spearheaded by the insurgent outfits.”
Following Kishorechandra’s petition filed by his advocate, the Manipur High Court had notified both the central and the state governments to submit their counter-affidavits to justify the NSA detention and fixed court processing on February 1.
(The author is a freelance journalist.)
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