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E-Pao! Opinion - Of landmines, rallies and batons

Of landmines, rallies and batons

By: Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *


The high drama that started on the evening of March 23 when the Delhi Police (along with the CRPF and RAF) broke up a protest march by tribal students from Manipur at Parliament Street, New Delhi came to an equally dramatic end on March 27 at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. But there is no knowing if the passion/tension filled 4-day drama right here in the heart of the capital will help bring amelioration to the issues that give rise to such protests in the first place.

Let me recapitulate, since the story just did not get the reportage it deserves in the English newspapers, both in Delhi and Imphal. The 23rd March protest rally was organized to demand action from the central and Manipur government on the (alleged) forcible abduction to Myanmar of as many as 480 Kuki villagers in Chandel district by the UNLF in collusion with elements of the Myanmar military junta; and on the landmine situation in the same district that has claimed at least 33 lives in the last six years, apart from throwing normal existence out of gear.

It may be mentioned that another rally had been held at the same place here on March 5 on the same issue. Both rallies were organized under the initiative of the Kuki Students Organisation (KSO), New Delhi. I took part in both these rallies. I saw what happened. It’s true that the agitators became restive after it became known that the Memorandum, addressed to the President, could not be submitted even by 4 pm on March 23. People have been sitting, standing and shouting in the sun all day without food. They realized that this rally, like the previous one, is getting nowhere unless something dramatic happen.

Soon, an attempt was made to break the second police barricade. By this time, the police had gathered in strength on the other side in full riot gear. Fragments of bricks, stone pieces, water bottles and iron rods started to fly. Next came the teargases, hissing and spouting white smoke; water cannons spewing forth liquid like laser beams; stun bombs, rubber bullets et al. It was at that point that people started to run.

Partially blinded by teargases, I took the short cut route next to the LIC building and ran back towards the rally’s starting point where the buses were parked. Limping along the road, I reached a corner in front of the Janata Dal (U) office at Jantar Mantar Road. I started splashing my eyes with water and it was then that a large group of crazy looking policemen passed me.

Many girls had boarded the waiting buses by that time. I saw a tear-gas canister exploding at the door of one bus. I saw a girl dragged out of the bus by the hair by a policeman even as another whipped her repeatedly on the head and back with a baton. As the girl falls down, a third police person emerged and started stomping on her.

I can go on but it was unnecessary. One can well argue that there is some provocation for the police action, but the extent of the response was definitely over the top, and unbecoming of a professional police force. The police actually searched for and rounded up everyone who looks like a ‘chinky’ from the area. Three people, whom I know, who were going to Le Meredien Hotel for a function in the evening were picked up without any explanation and interrogated at the Thana.

They were slapped around as they protests and were eventually dropped back to the Hotel–but not before Xeroxed copies of their invite and ID cards were taken. The complaint submitted to the NHRC by ‘Action 2007’, a people’s action group that staged agitations at the same place on the day, documents some of the outrages perpetrated by the police on the agitators, most of whom were students.

But it was inside the police thana and in the charges framed against the arrested agitators that the vengeful, vindictive nature of the Delhi Police became apparent. Most of the 150-odd agitators arrested–many of them injured and bleeding–were tortured and subjected to humiliating treatments even after they were in police custody. They were not provided any food on the first day and they have to brave the wintry night in their T-shirts.

All sorts of charges–including those relating to dacoity and robbery were brought against them by the Delhi police, the same force that unleashed such brutality upon them. The police even tried to arrest those who had gone to the police station and at RML Hospital in the evening to bring some food to them. When they were produced at the Patiala House Court the next day, some people who tried to pass eatables to them were rudely shooed off by the police.

Will the Delhi police behave the way they did if the agitators were brown-skinners, say, from UP? What about the know-all media? In some reports (and there were very few), the agitators were dubbed as ‘Kuki activists’, while in fact most of them were students, many of whom actually missed their university practical examinations due to their incarceration. ‘Serious’ newspapers that have enough space for ‘a university teacher who picked a fight with someone who run over a dog’ have no space for the issue (landmine), nor the rallies nor the police excesses. It was astounding, to say the least.

It is even doubtful if the prisoners will be released this way had various students’ organizations (especially the JNU Students Union) and civil society groups in the capital not extended their support in so overwhelming a manner. The sit-in protest at ITO on Monday was a huge success that must have unnerved the police. Since Monday, people have been keeping a continuous vigil at Tihar Jail. At the JNU, where a reception was planned on the same day, hundreds of people waited up till about 2 am for the prisoners to be released.

When they indeed ‘came home’ around 4 pm on Tuesday, the spectacle was a beautiful one, shorn of all maliciousness and spite that has come to be identified with the police. More than a thousand people who have been waiting for them at Teflas (JNUSU Complex) lined the road and cheer on as the ‘heroes’ emerged from their buses. Many of them still bore tell tale signs of torture, some were in bandages and two of them came with IV drips attached to their arms.

But each of them could not help but smile as they were presented roses as they alighted. Only one was left behind, due to a ‘clerical mistake’ and was to be released the next day. If there has been someone, who just happens to be here for the fun, he would probably never realize the irony.

Of this ‘celebration’ and the landmines that still sits in the hills back home, the rural existence that has gone haywire completely and the 480-odd people allegedly transported to god-knows-where inside Myanmar.


Thangkhanlal Ngaihte wrote this article for the Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 08th, 2007.


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