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Amid tensions between groups, Manipuri activist arrested

Mark T Haokip was arrested on May 24 from his residence in Delhi, under Sections 153(a) and 505(2), over social media posts allegedly promoting communal disharmony.

Written by Jimmy Leivon | Imphal |
Updated: May 27, 2022 9:59:00 pm
In one of his social media posts, Haokip wrote that the area of the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur (valley areas populated by the Meiteis) was just over 7,000 sq miles, and that the rest belonged to the hill people of Manipur. (Facebook @HumanRightsProtector)

The arrest of Manipuri activist Mark T Haokip and the consequent protests might add fire to a controversy over two hills in the state, Thangjing and Koubru, over which both the Meities and Kukis claim ownership.

Mang Vaiphei, a member of the International Human Rights Association (IHRA) that is led by Haokip, said the 37-year-old activist was vocal about the rights of the Kukis and against the “intimidating” programme of the Manipuri government to “grab tribal lands” under the guise of reserve forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries.

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Haokip was arrested on May 24 from his residence in Delhi, under Sections 153(a) and 505(2), over social media posts allegedly promoting communal disharmony. The three FIRs in the case were filed last year, with the arrest coming soon after his comments on the controversy over the hills.

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In one of his social media posts, Haokip wrote that the area of the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur (valley areas populated by the Meiteis) was just over 7,000 sq miles, and that the rest belonged to the hill people of Manipur. The total area of Manipur is 8,620 sq miles.

The hill controversy relates to Mt Koubru and Mt Thangjing. The Meities see Mt Koubru as the centre of human creation and all mythology and tradition. The state government recently announced its intention to declare areas on Mt. Koubru and Mt Thangjing as protected sites under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976. The Kuki groups see this as encroachment by valley people on their traditional land.

Babloo Loitongbam, executive director of NGO Human Rights Alert (HRA), said: “Even if Haokip was arrested for allegedly hate speech, he has every right to be examined on whether what he said falls under hate speech or not.”

On May 5, the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO) of Henglep Block in Churachandpur issued a statement restricting outsider entry on the Thangjing Hill without permission of the village chief concerned. Countering this, the Committee on Protection and Preservation of Historical Rights of Koubru and Thangjing Hill Range (CPPKT) on May 20 imposed restrictions on the locals of Thangjing hills from entering the valley area, which is populated by the Meities.

Later, the KSO and CPPKT withdrew their statements after an understanding was reached at a meeting chaired by Manipur DGP P Doungel.

The IHRA blames the arrest on “the apparent bias of the Government of Manipur against the Kukis”. It also accuses the BJP regime of “a majoritarian shift… towards a Meitei-centric government”. Meiteis are largely valley-dwelling people, who follow Hinduism.

Following Haokip’s arrest, tension erupted in Churachandpur district of Manipur when a group of protesters demanding his immediate release clashed with police. In the confrontation, around 13 protesters and three police personnel were injured.

Responding to queries about the arrest, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said: “Let the law take its own course. We are not against anybody but against elements who are trying to destabilise the state. It is the duty of every government to protect and safeguard the interest of its people and the state.”

Imphal West SP Ksh Shivakanta Singh said Haokip had been brought to Imphal on transit remand granted by a city court in Delhi for five days. “He will be produced before a magistrate in Imphal for further police remand for investigation into the case against him.”

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