It is rather disappointing that the arrest of Arnab Goswami, editor and owner of Republic TV in Mumbai in connection with a reopened alleged abetment of suicide case in Mumbai is talked about more even in Manipur than the arrest of a local journalist on sedition charge and who has been lodged in jail for all of one month now. Although the charge against Goswami is much graver, he has since been granted bail but not Kishorechandra though even the charge framed against him seems fictitious. Quite ironically, perhaps it is precisely the fictitious character of the charge against the latter that that is holding back a fair treatment, for as the Meitei saying goes, tumdaba mi houdokpa wai (you can wake a sleeping man, but difficult to wake up one who is only pretending to be asleep). It is also quite confounding that award of bail has come to be treated as a reward and conversely, its denial as a penalty. This is quite contrary to the actual meaning of a bail, which is simply a measure to ensure the punctual attendance of an accused at court hearings of the charges against the person. If the person is someone who can be trusted not to abscond court, then it should be made his right to be on bail. On the other hand, if he is someone either likely to abscond, or commit similar crimes as he is charged, or tamper evidences while not in custody, then bail denial makes sense. But the pattern in India has been for extreme partisanship even in the grant of bail to crime accused. Kishorechandra case is again pointing to this.
There are opinions even amongst the journalists fraternity in Manipur that the Kishorechandra is a rogue who cannot hold back his tongue especially under influence of alcohol, therefore do not deserve the solidarity of the fraternity in his moment of distress. They also claim that they had stood by him in earlier instances when he got into trouble with the government but the man has not changed his ways. There are some who even say he is technically not a jouralist. Even if this is true, the question remains, what has this to do with his arrest now. Are journalists, and indeed anybody, supposed to stand by only those they consider as one of them? If this were so, then it has to be said this is a very clannish response, therefore in anthropological terms, primitive. It also is not complementary to the idea of respect for law, and all enlightened citizen, to which category journalists obviously belong, should reflect on this. The matter should hence be seen through the prism of rule of law first before all the personal likes and dislikes of the person in questions are taken into consideration. If this were to be done, it would not matter if the person is a journalist or not, all that would come up for scrutiny would first and foremost be whether he is a citizen, therefore entitled to all the protections guaranteed under any civilised, humanitarian law.
It is certainly true that the law of the nation does leave provisions for penalising criminals, but the settled principle of law is, these penalties have to be first proven in a court of law and the penalty awarded proportionate to the crime committed. This being so, any law abiding and law respecting citizen, especially a fraternity that claims to be the watchdogs of the society, should have been alerted and alarmed by any arrests made under any one of the draconian laws such as sedition, UAPA, NSA, AFSPA etc. Kishorechandra this time was arrested on sedition charge, for an act which can be termed as misplaced and unnecessary, but certainly not one deserving imprisonment without trial. He has been arrested several times before for similar offences, giving the impression that he is not in any awe of authority. However, from a neutral vantage, this should matter little, and his past demonstrations of irreverence should not bias those interpreting his present or future actions. In any case, the courts of law had pronounced his earlier so-called offences were no offences against the law, but more a question of incivility. As we see it, the present case is also one at best of transgressing the line of decency in public space, but even this is doubtful. As we all know now, the Facebook post for which sedition charge was slapped on him was merely a matter of reposting some profane, communally condescending remarks that the second wife of a minister used in the hope of humiliating the estranged first wife of the same minister. He also made it clear in his post that the profanities were not his own words but those of the woman in question. Where is the grave cognizable offence of sedition then? At best, he could have been booked for use of indecent language in public.
Lest it is mistaken, let it be clarified again. The glaring evidence of abuse of power in the arrest of Kishorechandra is not merely a question of whether the man is a journalist or not. Even if he were not a journalist, the nature of the arrest should have been a matter of grave concern for all who believe in justice, and the constitutional rule of law. Let all also be reminded that rule of law cannot just be defined by a readiness to apply the law, for it is also very much the need for proportionality of crime and punishment. Just as it would be a gross miscarriage of justice if a student were to be hanged for habitually skipping classes, it is equally preposterous for someone to be booked under National Security Act, NSA, or under sedition charges for using vulgar language on Facebook. As for the journalist community in the state, their deafening silence on the matter is disgraceful. Even Arnab Goswami, who was implicated on the basis of a suicidal man’s dying declaration, had journalists, many of whom had no liking for him, coming out to stand with him. Why then are none of the apex journalist bodies in Manipur not concerned about the arrest of a fellow journalist, no matter how unpopular he is amongst them?
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author