In tweets and commentary, ignorance about Manipur’s troubled history

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 08, 2015 11:57 IST

A day after 18 Indian Army soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by insurgents in Manipur's Chandel district, Leika Yumnam, an indigenous rights activist, woke up to the sound of army helicopters passing by in Imphal.

Eleven other soldiers were also injured in the ambush on a convoy of the Dogra Regiment, described as one of the most deadly attacks on security forces in over two decades in the state which borders Myanmar.

With a picture of a helicopter hovering above her house, Yumnam wrote on Facebook, "Amidst the storm clouds, I woke up to sounds of helicopters buzzing past. In response to yesterday's army ambush by militants, operation 'Directorate' has been initiated by the Indian Army. There are also reports that security analysts suspect the attack was in retaliation for the killing of a woman by soldiers on Monday."

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang faction) has claimed responsibility for the attack.

"Chandel district of Manipur is a place where militant groups from Meitei, Naga and Kuki all have presence and influence unlike some other districts where one ethnic group dominates. Hence, it is especially volatile," says Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, a former Manipuri journalist.

Ignorant reactions

But, a scroll on Twitter with comments under hashtags like #manipur and #manipurattack, however, reveals that large sections of the Twiteratti have no idea of the demography of the region or its complex politics.

They are ignorant of the troubled history of extremism in northeastern states like Manipur and suffer from a sense of hyper-nationalism that calls for drastic army action against the extremists.

Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan tweeted on the attack, "Heartfelt condolences to d families of the 20 jawans killed in a mindless ambush by Manipur tribals."

The comment was slammed by social media users who corrected the actor that the jawans were killed not by tribals but by militants.

Several other tweets said that the Indian state should now 'avenge' the attack.

Amarendra Singh, under the handle @asb401, wrote, "@manoharparrikar Manipur attack must be avenged.Take no prisoners,end this menace once and for all. Co-ordinate with Myanmar & kill them all."

A few Hindu right-wing theorists have also made absurd claims that widespread conversion to Christianity prevalent in the northeast is responsible for such attacks.

Sankrant Sanu, under the handle @sankrant, wrote: "Await details of #ManipurAttack, but Christian groups have used terror in conversion war there."

"Insurgencies in the NE have been inflamed by unchecked Xian conversions there for decades. Truth #AdarshLiberals hide."

Babloo Loitongbam, human rights activist from Manipur, said such reactions go a long way in further alienating the people of northeast India.

"Sweeping comments on the internet and even on the telelvision end up in the further alienation of the people of the region. What we need to understand is when the state snuffs out peaceful protest by people like Sharmila, extremism is bound to escalate," says Loitongbam, who is also the lawyer for activist Irom Sharmila who has been on a fast for more than 15 years to protest against army excesses in Manipur.

"In these troubled times, we need nuanced comments and reactions," he says.

Right activist Yumnam adds a word of caution.

"Of course, the state and central government would come down very harshly on the militants. But I just hope that in the process of doing that and their military operations, the public and the civilians do not suffer," says Yumnam.

On the comments, she said, "I think it is a classic case of 'othering'. Often we find in conflict situation it is sometimes easier for people to deal with loss by venting out their anger by way of positing binaries, the 'us versus them' binaries."

No mention of troubled history

On Twitter and Facebook, there hardly seems to be comments which seek a rational examination of the issues faced by northeastern states, but they do seek an impassionate revenge against terror groups.

Comments and reactions on the troubled history that Manipur has had with the armed forces is also missing.

In hashtags and Facebook posts, there was no mention of the controversial killing of Chungkham Sanjit Singh Meitei by Imphal City Police commandos in 2009. The CBI has chargesheeted nine policemen for the fake encounter.

While tribute flows in for the jawans killed on Thursday, no one has mentioned the case of Thangjam Manorama who was picked up from her home by the armed forces and her body was later found later riddled with bullets. Manorama’s mother claimed in a Times of India report that her daughter was brutally raped.

Few days later, 30-odd middle-aged women walked naked through Imphal to the Assam Rifles headquarters, shouting: "Indian Army, rape us too…”

"This ambush has made national news and we are talking about 'Indian Army' getting attacked. But the important question is what has lead to this situation, this violence and counter-attacks," says a Manipuri management professional based in Chennai, on condition of anonymity.

Former media person Ngaihte says that the multi-faceted problems of Manipur can only be solved when the Indian state ceases its policy to only 'contain' and 'manage' the insurgencies, without trying to bring lasting peace.

"The government seems totally clueless on how to address the multiple issues or is unwilling to resolve them. Its attitude is apathetic and ad hoc," says Ngaihte.

(The views expressed are personal. The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990)

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