New Delhi: Erendro Leichombam, a 37-year-old political activist from Manipur, who was booked for sedition last week, said this was not the first time the state government had tried to arrest him.
“The police have visited my Manipur house several times in the past, even for holding peaceful protests. They have come knocking at 2 am. Often, I have had to hide. I had been in jail for 15 days in 2018 after the state police accused me of inciting a riot,” Leichombam told ThePrint.
On 24 July, the activist had posted a photo on Facebook featuring Sanajaoba Leishemba, Manipur’s titular king and newly-elected Rajya Sabha BJP MP, bowing before Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The photo was captioned “minai macha”, which roughly translates to ‘son of a servant’. He was charged with sedition on 26 July.
Superintendent of Police, Imphal East, Jogeshchandra Haobijam confirmed the charge and told ThePrint: “A case has also been registered against Leichombam under IPC sections 505 (public mischief) and 153 (causing provocation to riot).”
Haobijam, however, did not reply when asked about the allegations Leichombam had levelled against the police.
ThePrint also tried to get in touch with Manipur DGP L.M. Khaute via calls and text messages for a comment but did not get a response till the time of publishing of this report.
“I am being targeted because I have been questioning the state government and it has a tendency of silencing critics…anybody who tries to fix accountability on it,” said Leichombam, who is currently in Delhi.
From symposium on AFSPA to meeting Irom Sharmila
Leichombam noted that what “hurt” him the most was his inability to work for his people.
A postgraduate from Harvard University, he had worked with the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme before deciding to return to his home state in 2016 because he “wanted to do something for his community”.
He said, “I was aware of the obstacles. But they turned out to be more challenging than I imagined.”
Leichombam did his schooling from Delhi before moving to California in 2003 for a graduate degree from the Soka University of America. “I worked for a while after my graduation before taking admission at Harvard in 2010 for a master’s degree in public administration in international development.”
He was also elected president of the Harvard India Caucus in 2012. “I had teamed up with the Manipuri diaspora and organised a symposium at Harvard that year on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and violation of human rights in Manipur. I wanted to highlight (civil rights activist) Irom Sharmila’s struggle at an international platform. It was this symposium that first raised eyebrows back home and also when I first reached out to her.”
Leichombam decided to come back to India a year later, in 2013. He started a skill development institute and a management school in Guwahati along with a few others.
In 2016, he left for Manipur and met Sharmila days after she had ended her 16-year-long fast against the AFSPA.
Together, they formed a political outfit called the Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance that year. A year later, in 2017, he unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections in Manipur that brought the BJP to power for the first time that year.
‘Scared to go back to Manipur’
Leichombam said he now plans to petition the National Human Rights Commission against the state administration for “harassing” him and his family for the past several years.
“I am working with my lawyers to counter the charges against me. But I am afraid to go back to Manipur. Even if a court dismisses the charges, the state government may still arrest me under arbitrary allegations. It may even slap the National Security Act,” he said.
“The Manipur Police have refused to share a copy of the latest FIR with my family. They had requested if they could make a photocopy but the police refused,” he added.
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