TODAY -

Arrests on charges of “provocation” on social media platforms
and what the Manipur government can do to prevent

John Phaltual *



Social media, since its inception in 1996 has managed to permeate half of the 7.7 billion people in the world. Social media allows us to connect across borders more easily than at any other time in human history, and even to expose human rights abuses in faraway places. And in this new digital era, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Whatsapp, and other social media platforms are not just places for information sharing and social networking, they are also places where vilification, targeting, and incitement take place.

The propagation of hate speech has taken many forms throughout history as media platforms have evolved. The Nazis used virulently anti-semitic newspapers like Der Stürmer to help incite the German people into active persecution of Jews. During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the RTLM radio station played a key role in promoting hate speech regarding the Tutsi, inciting the genocide. In 2017 the Myanmar military systematically utilized Facebook as a tool to disseminate propaganda in their persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority.

And today, as the war in Ukraine enters its third month, Russia used the state-controlled Channels, both Channel One and Russia-1 to feed its war propaganda of “denazification” and “demilitarization” in Ukraine, while hundreds of news outlets and social networks have vanished from the Russian web amid efforts to crack down on domestic dissent over the conflict.

In this age of rapid technological development, the internet has dramatically revolutionized the means of communication in our everyday lives. Meantime, the Government and the public couldn’t turn a blind eye to the systematic incitement against others on the social media platforms. For example, there are roughly thousands of social media users, each of whom has shared at least one post inciting against another community or ethnic group every moment. If systematic data of inciting posts are collected they will be beyond count.

The arrest and legal pursuit of activists on social media platforms have become a deliberate tactic of some groups or organizations that developed new policies and approaches to carry out arrests aimed at oppressing and infringing on the right to freedom of expression of other communities. These practices will leave the feeling of each community overwhelmed, confined, and under surveillance at all times and thus creating an uncomfortable social disharmony. Any attempt to deliberately criminalize all speech and criticism aimed against it and its policies is an attempt at hyperbole to link an opposing argument or criticism to acts of hatred and animosity.

An example of that is the case of Dr. Mark Thangmang Haokip, 37, from Molnom neighborhood in Churachandpur. On May 24th, 2022, Dr Mark was arrested and charged with incitement. He had published some posts on his personal Facebook and Instagram accounts and was charged with offenses.

A human rights activist Dr. Mark Thangmang Haokip, the president of the Manipur Chapter of the International Human Rights Association (IHRA) was arrested from his residence at Kishangarh in New Delhi on 24 May. He was brought to Imphal by a team of Manipur police for further investigation on Friday 26 May, in transit remand, and was sent to judicial custody for 15 days.

He was summoned for recording a statement on May 22 in connection with the FIR at Churachandpur police station under section 153-A/505(2) Indian Penal Code, related to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

One of the cases with Mark was centered on a post about “Rani Gaidinlui.” He had published on his Facebook and his Twitter accounts against freedom fighter Padma Bhushan awardee Rani Gaidinliu on 23 November 2021, that the freedom fighter was a criminal, which concerned people claimed that he incited hatred and that it is a derogatory and defamatory statement by distorting history.

Meanwhile, Kabui Mothers' Association (KAMA) General Secretary Ranjita Golmei has said that Mark T Haokip should be given capital punishment as per his guilt in describing freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu as a criminal and not a freedom fighter. Addressing media persons at the KAMA office, Ranjita Golmei said that Mark is a refugee, and his post on social media describing freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu as a criminal without knowing history indeed was dishonoring the people of the land.

The police told the court that the post by Haokip on his Facebook on 27 July 2021, had stated that the merger agreement signed by the Maharaja covered only 700 sq. miles and did not cover the territory occupied by tribal chiefs and their subjects.

On July 9 the post read, “The Inner Manipur, which is geographically about 700 sq. miles, was annexed into the Union of India by Maharaja of Manipur Bodha Chandra Singh through the very hands of V.P Menon, the then adviser to the Govt. of India, Ministry of State on behalf of the Dominion of India on September 21, 1947, in Shillong. In as much, the inclusion of Outer Manipur (Hill Area), about 7,921 sq. miles into Manipur state in 1972, when Manipur became Part-C State, is politically illogical since the Kuki Chiefs were unconsulted and, no evidence of agreement with Govt. of India is available. ”

As per the police, leaders belonging to 10 civil society organizations including IPSA, ACOAM Lup, PANDM, IPAK, Kanglamei, Kabui Mother's Association, KIL, CLK, Zeliangrong Union (Assam, Manipur & Nagaland) and KSA had lodged a complaint at Imphal police station on November 28 the same year to arrest Mark Haokip for blemishing image of a freedom fighter. Denouncing such Facebook posts, The Federation of Haomee (FoH), Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL) also lodged an FIR against Dr. Mark on the charge of creating enmity amongst the people on social media and demanding to take legal action.

In contrast, condemning the arrest, protest rallies were taken out in the hills districts of Churachandpur and Kangpokpi. A few protesters were allowed to submit in the name of the Committee on Protection of Tribal Rights Manipur (COPTRM) their representation addressed to Governor La. Ganesan through the District Magistrate/DC of Kangpokpi. The committee in its representation appraised the Governor of the arrest of the IHRA Manipur Chapter president and demanded his immediate release. It also stated that the Indian Penal Code IPC 153 (A) has gravely been misused by the State Government in the arrest of Dr. Mark Haokip.

It also alleged that it was the Federation of Haomee and Kangleipak Kanba Lup that incited hatred toward minority tribes in the State but they were neither summoned nor arrested for instigating hatred and animosity among the people in Manipur. It also said that the case against Dr. Mark Haokip is unambiguously a fitting reply about the call of Kukis as foreigners and refugees.

That the arrest is an infringement upon the rights of Freedom of Speech and Expression which is enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, the memorandum said and asked the governor to acknowledge the unlawful arrest of Mark Haokip and release him forthwith. It also appealed to the Governor to stop all derogatory statements against the Kukis by non-tribal communities and it is a punishable offense under the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955. Meanwhile, Kuki Women Union Sadar Hills president, Mawinu said that the arrest of Dr. Mark clearly shows that there is no meaning of “Chingmi-Tammi Amatani” under the present state government. She also said that Kuki women will launch a larger protest if Dr. Mark is not released.

The foreigner tag of the Kukis is contradictory to communal harmony:

On May 27, 2022, Dr. Mark Thangmang Haokip's father Mr. Limkhosei Haokip slammed the Chief Minister N Biren Singh for his alleged "blind and irresponsible" statement in branding him as a 'Myanmarese.' The 76-years old father said that his father Ondou Haokip was a member of the Indian National Army (INA) and as such belonged to an Indian freedom fighter's family and further said that they have been living in Manipur for centuries since the time of Landaithangba.

To backtrack on his comment, on 28 May, the CM Biren at a gathering after a “Mass Plantation Drive” organized by the Forest Department at Kanglatombi-Kangpokpi Reserved Areas said “Indigenous Kukis are also bonafide citizens of India and we should not let any external influence ruin the peaceful coexistence among various communities of the State. We should prevent illegal migrants from settling among us,”

One very vexing incident regarding the Kukis issue is the repugnant allegations by vested interest groups that the Kuki people are non-Indians and outsiders (foreigners). With the rise of chauvinist nationalism and jingoist scholars began to allege that the Kukis are not the indigenous people of Manipur. This is erroneous because historical records stated that the Kuki have settled in North East India since the ancient past.

The Manipur historical records dating back to AD 33, pointed out that Nongba Lairen Pakhangba, the first Meitei King, mentioned two Kuki chiefs, namely Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba. Cheitharol Kumaba (Royal Chronicles of the Meitei Kings) noted that in the year 186 Sakabda (AD 264) Meidungu Taothinmang, a Kuki, became king.

Again in 33 C.E two Kukis by the name Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba were allies of Nongba Lairen Pakhangba .King Irengba who reigned Manipur between 1107-1127 AD had contact with Kuki villages north of Imphal valley (Asim Roy, 1997). And again, L. Joychandra, a scholar historian, noted that Manipuri King Naofanga who reigned between 624 AD and 714 AD had Friendship Treaties with Kuki Chiefs East of Imphal (Lost Kingdoms 1995:1).

Though the origins of the Meitei people are not conclusively known, there is no doubt, with historical evidence, that the Meitei were the first settlers of the land of Manipur. And it is quite strange to observe that in the Pooyas, the traditional literature of the Meitei people of Manipur, two Kuki Chiefs named Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba were allied to Nongba Lairen Pakhangba, the first historically recorded king of the Meitei.

Nevertheless, Manipur is a place where different communities which have different religions are living together. The people of various communities – the Meitei, Nagas, and Kukis - in the state maintain communal harmony and there has been peaceful coexistence since time immemorial. However, many problems have been popping up since the rise of nationalist ideologies among the various communities, and instead of demanding their rights from the state through peaceful means, there are groups with the wrong aspiration of targeting one community.

In this regard, narrow and vested interested individuals and groups always seek an opportunity to create communal hatred among the communities and disturb the friendly coexistence of different communities in the state. Every far-sighted individual and group must condemn any evil campaign which tries to harm communal harmony.

Again, Mark's expression regarding Rani Gaidinliu was wrong. The word “freedom fighter” was interpreted as criminal rebellion. Rani Gaidinliu was one of the tribal leaders in Manipur who led a revolt against British rule in India. During the British rule in North East India, there are many tribal groups of different regions who revolted against the Britishers. Their movements were anti-colonial in nature because they were directed against the colonial administration. With the influx of the British with the Christian missionaries into the traditional regions of the tribal many negative effects on the socio-cultural and religious practices were strongly resisted. And Rani Gaidinliu was such a stalwart traditionalist and nationalist leader.

Recognizing his mistakes, Dr. Mark has tendered an apology for mistakenly defaming the good image of the freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu. He said the post was put up unintentionally and that he did not expect it to provoke serious consequences and hurt the sentiments of the people. He appealed to the general public to accept his sincere apology.

Sometimes good people make bad choices. It doesn't mean they are bad people, it just means they are Human. Everyone makes mistakes in life, but that doesn't mean they have to pay for them for the rest of their life.

The arrest and legal pursuit of anyone on social media platforms should not become tools to deliberately carry out with the sole aimed at oppressing and infringing on the right to freedom of expression of other communities. It should be noted that there are many individuals and organizations from the valley and hills who posted hate comments on social media and Mark was a victim of his comments published in a media outlets.

No matter what, the Manipur government needs to explore the main courses of action focusing on two key axes: to propose a “Social Media Bill” in the Assembly, as well the cooperation between the Manipur government and social media platforms in removing content and posts labeled as “incitement”. The Government needs to pass a bill allowing for the removal of hate-incited online content.

The bill should allow a State representative or any other public employee to file a request in Administrative Affairs Court to delete inciting content for constituting a criminal offense. The court judge will be allowed to issue an order instructing social networking companies such as FB, Twitter, Google’s Youtube channel, and Whatsapp to remove inflammatory content from the sites if the judge believes that publishing the content constitutes a criminal offense that may pose an actual threat to the safety and security of a person or the public if not deleted.

However, in doing so, the government should focus that free speech is the bedrock of democracy and the fundamental rights of the people. For fear of harming the freedom of expression and in order to ensure citizens’ right to freely express criticism online, the government has to make a balance legislative process for preventing incitement online in social media.


* John Phaltual wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer may be reached at yochananyy(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on June 04 2022.



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