New Delhi: It was August 12, 2016, and the occasion was the inauguration of the University of Culture and Manipur State Film and Television Institute. In attendance were some of the most renowned intellectuals, poets and filmmakers of Manipur. In this august company, the chief guest, the then Manipur governor V Shanmuganathan (who resigned as the Governor of Meghalaya on Thursday) gave them an incredible offer. He asked the intellectuals to define ‘culture’ in 100 words, in return for which they could have the honour of having tea with him.
Alas, he is no Godfather. And for many, this turned out to be an offer they just had to refuse. Later, award-winning Manipuri filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma wrote an open letter to him saying: “I shall not attempt an answer to your question here so I forfeit any claim to tea with your excellency.” He went on to say “…in the culture of those assembled on that occasion, asking such a question — fit for school children — to those who have dedicated their lifetime, who are living embodiment of culture, is considered as uncultured in our culture.”
It seems wherever Shanmuganathan went, he did manage to rile the public. But the Manipur incident was nothing compared to the mutiny of Shillong, where around 100 employees of Raj Bhavan wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Union Home Minister and Chief Minister accusing him of turning the prestigious office into a “Ladies Club”. This letter ultimately forced the Governor to step down from his position.
The letter alleged that the 67-year-old Governor’s “activities” hurt the decorum and prestige of the Raj Bhavan as well as the sentiments of employees, “who are very much attached to the Raj Bhavan”.
Apart from this, another signature campaign gained momentum. This one was by eminent citizens of the state. Over 400 signatures were taken on this letter, which was addressed to the President and the Prime Minister. Apart from the removal of Shanmuganathan, they also wanted a through probe into the allegations of the Raj Bhavan staff.
Behind this entire movement is an organisation called Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR). Angela Rangad of TUR says the first rumours of “sexual misconduct” reached them about a year-and-a-half back. She says, “That was when we first heard about this case, but he was the Governor and people were naturally scared.” It was only after the allegations of late night interviews of “female candidates for PRO’s job” surfaced, did the movement actually gain momentum. Now Angela’s team is preparing to file a police complaint against the then Governor and his secretary.
“Statements of the Raj Bhavan employees should be taken and an FIR should be registered against Shanmuganathan and his secretary. Why should he get away only by resigning? He, too, should be held accountable for his actions like any other individual. We want this immunity against the Governors to end.”
People’s movement against alleged sexual offenders has been gaining momentum in Meghalaya. Former militant-turned-MLA Julius Dorphang was arrested on charges of raping a 14-year-old girl. He went into hiding the moment the news came into public domain and the arrest took place only after sustained pressure by the people and the media.
Agnes Kharsing, a social activist who was actively involved with the protests, says, “The Governor’s resignation was a welcome surprise. We didn’t expect this to happen so soon. The guesthouse in which Dorphang had allegedly raped the minor girl belongs to the Home Minister’s family. We have been campaigning hard to get him to resign, but he has not heeded to the people’s demand yet.”
Sources in the Raj Bhavan suggest that the timing of the resignation also had to do with the upcoming elections in five states. The ruling BJP couldn’t risk yet another embarrassment from the RSS man-turned-governor, who had hurt Manipuri sentiments earlier. Manipur votes on March 4 and 8, and the BJP is fighting an increasingly tough battle against the three-time Congress government led by Chief Minister Ibobi Singh.