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How bad are things in Manipur? Advocates are under attack for representing clients, that bad

The attack on the lawyers representing Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing may be a clear indicator that the situation on the ground in Manipur is worsening rather than improving. 

AS a grim reminder of the situation in violence-hit Manipur— three advocates representing Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing have withdrawn due to alleged threats by members of their own community.

The advocates: Victor Khaba, Soraisham Chittaranjan and Priyokuma Sharma belong to the Meitei community and Dr Hausing belong to the Kuki-Zo community.

Dr Hausing is a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad.

On Thursday, he had approached the Manipur High Court seeking relief from the charges made against him on the basis of an interview where he had expressed his opinion on the violence-hit Manipur.

The three advocates were to assist Dr Hausing for filing relevant documents, on the request of senior advocate Anand Grover, representing Dr Hausing.

On Friday, Chittaranjan’s house was vandalised by a mob.

After the advocates withdrew, the Manipur High Court directed a legal aid lawyer to appear for Dr Hausing, but the lawyer’s terms were not acceptable to Dr Hausing.

This leaves Dr Hausing without any counsel of his choice to represent him, denying him the fundamental right to be represented by a lawyer, guaranteed under Article 22 of the Constitution.

Matter against Dr Hausing

A first information report (FIR) was lodged against Dr Hausing under Sections 153A, 200, 295A, 298, 505(i) and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) for expressing his views on the situation in the violence-hit Manipur during an interview to The Wire.

As an academician studying politics and ethnic conflicts in the Northeast, Dr Hausing claimed to have expressed his views and opinion in the interview in good faith.

Another FIR was filed against Dr Hausing on July 10, on the ground that his name had been added to the electoral roll of the Churachandpur assembly constituency in 2005, allegedly using fraudulent means.

On August 14, the Supreme Court granted a two-week interim protection from arrest by the Manipur police to Dr Hausing and allowed him to move the appropriate court (Manipur High Court) to seek the necessary remedies. 

Sensitivity in Manipur

Manipur has been witnessing ethnic clashes between the minority Kukis, who are mostly Christian and live in the hills, and the majority Meiteis, who are predominantly Hindu and live in the Imphal Valley, since May 3, 2023.

Violence ensued in the Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts, leading to loss of lives, and destruction of homes, temples and churches which quickly escalated to other districts in the state over the following days.

On July 20, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court took suo moto cognisance of the gruesome incident of sexual violence against two Kuki-Zo women in Manipur, who were paraded naked by a mob.

On August 1, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta presented a status report regarding the ongoing violence before the Supreme Court.

As per the report, as of July 25, a total of 6,530 FIRs had been registered, 150 people had died, 502 persons had been injured, 252 persons were arrested by the local police, and over 12,000 persons had been placed in preventive detention.

Taking note of the report, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud remarked that there has been a “complete breakdown of constitutional machinery, and of law and order”. 

The CJI noted a “considerable lapse” between the occurrence of the incidents, registration of FIRs, recording of statements of witnesses and arrests of accused persons.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioner Manipur Tribals’ Forum, had claimed that 118 bodies of people of the Kuki-Zo tribal community remain unidentified in morgues.

In order to oversee the humanitarian measures to be undertaken in Manipur, the Supreme Court constituted a committee on August 7.

The committee consists of three former judges of high courts, headed by Gita Mittal, former chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

On August 25, the Supreme Court took notice of the sensitive situation in Manipur and directed the cases that are transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation to be tried in Assam instead of Manipur.

The court even allowed victim and witness statements to be recorded virtually.

On September 1, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing on behalf of Mahua Moitra, member of Lok Sabha from the Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal and assisting the court, had emphasised that the blockade in Moreh, a town in district Chandel, is causing starvation.

Taking this into account, the Supreme Court directed the Union and Manipur governments to ensure the supply of food, medicines and other basic necessities in the violence-affected areas of the state. 

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi had highlighted the destruction of over 600 churches in Manipur during the ongoing conflict.

In August, Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi stated in the Parliament that it is almost impossible for people belonging to Meitei and Kukis communities to travel to areas dominated by the other communities presently in Manipur.

Gandhi stressed that violence had plagued the state. 

Reportedly, in June, over 3,000 weapons were looted from police stations and security force camps. 

On Friday, the director general of Assam Rifles Lieutenant General P.C. Nair, said that the situation of ongoing clashes in Manipur is “unprecedented”.

Fact-finding teams

In June this year, a three-member fact-finding team from the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) went to Manipur to hear individual testimonies of people affected by the violence.

The team collected narratives in Delhi as well as in Manipur, where it visited relief camps and met with district collectors and other officials.

The NFIW, in its report on Manipur, concluded that the state government had failed in protecting the lives of citizens.

The report demands the resignation of the chief minister of the state and calls the violence “state sponsored violence”.

On July 8, members of the fact-finding team— advocate Deeksha Dwivedi, Annie Raja, senior leader of Communist Party of India, and Nisha Sidhu, general secretary of the NFIW, were booked by the Manipur police.

They were charged under Sections 121A, 124, 153, 153A, 153B, 499, 504 and 505(2), read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Another fact-finding team, comprising Dr Syeda Hameed, founder member of South Asians For Human Rights; Dr Roshmi Goswami, co-chair of South Asians For Human Rights and co-founder of North East Network; Jarjum G. Ete, president of All India Union of Forest Working People; and Angela Rangad, leader of KAM Meghalaya threw light on the grim situation in Manipur.

Their report raises concerns over the “systematic clamp down” on civil society organisations and dissenting local voices.

The report also highlighted that the blanket immunity provided by the State to the “divisive and hate-filled” non-state groups has emboldened their actions.

A report on the issue of local and State media reportage of the ongoing violence in Manipur was released by a fact-finding team of the Editors Guild of India, comprising Seema Gupta, Sanjay Kapoor and Bharat Bhushan.

The report alleges that the journalists of Manipur have written one-sided reports and the coverage has worsened due internet ban. 

The report also claims that the “leadership of the state became partisan during the conflict”. 

Reportedly, an FIR has been filed in Manipur against the Editors Guild of India by invoking Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, a punishable offence of three years imprisonment for posting offensive material online. 

The provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in the case of Shreya Singhal versus Union of India (2015).

‘Lawyers a canary in the coalmine’

Senior advocate Mihir Desai had this to say on the attack on lawyers in Manipur, “It is scandalous and the Supreme Court should take suo motu action. It shows that there is a complete breakdown of law and order, and failure of the state to even protect lawyers performing their statutory duties.”

A Manipuri lawyer who practises in Imphal told The Leaflet on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisal that the attack on lawyers who were merely performing their “duty to represent” is a new low for an already “terrible situation” in the state.

Lawyers and policemen are like the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Here we have a situation where Meitei policemen can’t go to enforce law and order in the hills and Kuki policemen can’t be seen in the valley.

Now this attack on lawyers. It is terrible and I don’t know what else the authorities need to determine before using all their resources to try to bring the situation under control,” the advocate said.

The Leaflet