Sharing Suffering Chain

Published on April 13, 2010

Sharing Suffering Chain

By David Buhril

Memories, Recollection, and Personal Account of the March 2007 Rally

The Simmer and the Spill

The protracted fighting between the Indian armies and the Manipur valley based militants in the “liberated zones” in Manipur’s Chandel district had a heavy toll on the innocent Kukis, the indigenous inhabitants of the district. However, despite the great misery, it took time to activate David Buhrilcollective response to aid their deplorable plights. Our people inside those forgotten hills have been helplessly negotiating tides of imposed small war that not only robbed them of their humane existence, but also plunder their citizenship and democratic rights. Our people were internally displaced, which, in many cases, made their situations worse than that of the refugees.

Many lost their lives and limbs, killed and maimed by the landmines planted by the militants to thwart the advance of the Indian armies. Landmines grow in the naked fields and in other strategic roads and routes. The seen as well as the unseen suddenly became unfriendly. The tide of time and progress acted against us. Although their growing fear and anger was almost touchable, their plights lay ruined under the collapsed consciousness of the government of Manipur whose institutions are paralyzed and its steel-frame rusted. Democracy and the entire process of decentralization is only a mute tirade where the experiment draws flux. We merely continue in our own selves to become a numb spoke in the imagined rim of democracy.

Militarization was, and still is, an acute syndrome that scars our beautiful land and further clogged our people’s mindsets. The only effective image of that leviathan government is visible in the ever growing check-post; military stations wreathed with prickly barbed wire and thousands of unemployed youths recruited from the dry cow-belt and other parts of the country who, otherwise, if not for unemployment, would never want to toy guns or sacrifice their one life. Both the fighting sides were trying to extend, if not secure their respective frontiers. That was how they imported fear, anger, death, displacement, hunger, suffering and militarization to our land and people. We were pushed into the endless game to become human-shield and damned victims. There was not much for our people to choose: It was to live and suffer or leave and suffer, like beggars. They are still suffering and negotiating the same situation even today. That was how another wave of degeneration set its foot into our land and people.

Rally One

While the endless protest in the face of inhumane-treatment went unheeded in Manipur, it, inevitably, awakened the Kukis in different parts of the country. The ‘now or never’ crucial situation compelled the Kuki Students’ Organisation, Delhi (KSOD) to represent the spiral of suffering that was almost frozen behind our green hills and blue mountain. The student body called for an emergency meeting in RK Puram where the need for proactive intervention was stressed. Besides the host body, Hmar Students’ Association, Siamsinpawlpi, Zillai, Zou Sangnaupang Pawl, Sinlung Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Organisation, etc., collectively deliberated strategies and plan of action. KSOD, proposed for a protest rally, which was collectively agreed. The date for the protest rally was fixed for March 5, 2007.

The first protest rally started from Jantar Mantar and ended in Parliament Street. It was peaceful with the student bodies submitting various charters of demands: sanitization of landmines, compensation for the landmine victims, resettlement of the displaced persons, setting up of military post/station, etc. Various students’ organizations also registered strong protest in their respective solidarity messages.

The protest rally was a heart-rending event as it stood to represent the voiceless and helpless lots who were trapped in distant corners where governance, law and order have failed to find their ways. The rally acted as the voice and vehicle to register the gross violations of human rights in a democratic space. Besides sensitizing the public, media, state actors as well as non-state actors, it weaved the need for interdependence. Above all, the protest rally was a resolution that we, as a people, shall not be silent spectators to any sub-human treatment.

Rally Two

After no end to their suffering, over 400 displaced Kukis were abducted from one of the ‘refugee camps’ in Chandel district by the same valley based armed group and taken into Burmese/Myanmar territory. That went against the dormant toleration and patience of the Kukis. When the news of the mass abduction found its way in some of the Imphal based newspapers, it was presented in a convenient version that was soft to make it look like one of those usual routine that frequented Manipur. Truth was masked with a cooked-up interpretation that was far from the unfortunate realities. I, once again, realized the state of us as journalistic orphans.

I remember when various Kuki organizations protested over the injustices; they were labeled as “communal.” Many a times we digress from seeing the real. Diverting the truth we sought salvation in our numb and stinking communal pond. Meanwhile, our suffering people were further pushed against humane limits to walk that extra mile of misery.

The unwanted development, again, compelled the KSOD to exert pressure for the rescue and return of the 400 Kukis who were abducted. Another protest rally was fixed for March 23, 2007. As usual, on the day, hundreds of students marched from Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street. On reaching Parliament Street after the slogan shouting, I saw layers of yellow barricades. Besides the Delhi Police armed with lathis, there were personnel’s of Rapid Action Force (RAF) in their blue-checked uniform with lathis, riot gun, two trucks fitted with water canon, metal helmets, and thick jackets to shield them from anything. I was taken by surprise as there was no such security preparation during our first rally.

We settled down the protesters for a formal session. Various student leaders delivered solidarity messages. Meanwhile the KSOD delegates were preparing to deliver the memorandum to the authorities. Appointment with the Indian prime minister (PM) was also sought to address the serious case of abduction and the deteriorating state of affairs in the torn state. I was also asked to be part of the KSOD delegates. We (Lamtinthang Haokip, David Buhril) were escorted by the Delhi Police (DP) to submit the memorandum and sought the desired appointment. We first submitted our memorandum to the president’s office. We, then, proceeded towards the PM’s office. We also submitted the memorandum. The Delhi Police took us around in their patrol jeep as we were told that they were seeking ‘the appointment’. We were taken to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) head-office. We were made to sit for long everywhere we went. The DP, then, took us to refill fuel. They while away our time with the excuse of waiting for the appointment with the prime minister, when on the other end, the protesters were waiting for some good news.

After long, the Delhi Police finally told us that it would be impossible to get an appointment with the PM. We retreated. On the way, we repeatedly told the DP how important the appointment would be for us. But it was like hitting the wall. The DP dropped us back to Parliament Street. On reaching the protest venue, it was already a different situation. The protesters have crossed-over the two barricades. They were in front of the last barricade as the DP and the RAF reinforced their strength and capacity. As I was trying to get back to the protesters, they started showering stones at the layers of security personnel that was on my side. I retreated and took shelter behind the columns of DP and RAF personnel. I watched the development from behind as the DP and RAF desperately shield themselves from the rain of stones and sticks. The RAF responded with their riot-gun, shooting tear gas. The protesters hurled back many of the live tear-gas cartridges. Immediately, we all become victims of the tear gas. Many of the security personnel could not open their eyes anymore. Our eyes were red with endless tears streaming out of our eyes.

The RAF personnel shot their riot-gun endlessly. Empty cartridges were everywhere. They were nervous, scared, and angry as well. After equipping themselves with sufficient reinforcement, the DP and the RAF went on a rampage; lathi-charging the protesters. I helplessly watched everything. After sometime, the scene turned uglier. I could see many of the protesters beaten up badly. Many of them were arrested and brought into the police station. I was also interrogated. I showed them my press card. Then, I overheard orders to hunt us down. I realized that it was not safe for us to be around or close to the protest site any longer. I took the other direction and crossed the road. I went to a tea juice stall and ordered for lemon to quench my thirst. Just as I was sipping my lemon, I saw DP chasing our boys and girls to the surprise of other pedestrians. I saw more of our boys being arrested, kicked and beaten. Watching was painful. I remember my eyes blurred with unshed tears, which almost burst my chest. I still carry the guilt of silently watching. Forgive me, everyone. I am still sorry. In desperation, I called up the then member of parliament (MP) of outer Manipur, Mani Charenamei, to immediately come to the Parliament Street police station and shoulder the situation. He went. I also informed my journalist friends to head to the Parliament Street police station and take stock of the situations.

When I was about to move out of the juice stall, an auto-rickshaw driver came and told me that the police were combing for us. “They are arresting everyone like you,” he told me. Just then, Benjamin Mate called me up and told me to immediately go far away from the protest site and avoid arrest. He also told me that all our other friends as well as the KSOD leaders were arrested. Benjamin Mate also arranged for a lawyer who immediately went to the Parliament Street police station.

After dinner, I headed towards RML hospital where our injured friends were given medical attention. I came to learn that 148 of our friends were arrested. The hospital was heavily guarded. Benjamin Mate called me up again and told me to leave the hospital as the police were still hunting for the leaders who were not yet arrested. I stayed for sometime as I was told that TN Haokip, one of Manipur’s ministers, would be coming to the hospital. I met Paolal Haokip and we strongly felt that we must ask few questions to the minister about the situations in Manipur’s Chandel. Paolal Haokip posed the minister serious questions. I was shocked that the minister called us (protesters) “mi chavei ho” (stupid). U Paolal Haokip was also shocked and taken by surprise. I left with a heavy heart that night.

Despite the two protest rally, the situations that have been gnawing us still demand constant intervention and constructive pressure from our front. The unfinished appear bigger than before. Despite the key KSOD leaders and many of our active supporters jailed in Tihar, there was an immediate need to keep our issue burning. I consulted KSOD advisers (Paolienlal, Khupthang, Sem Haokip, etc.) and impressed upon the need for another protest demonstration. I proposed that we have another protest demonstration in front of Delhi Police headquarters to denounce the high-handedness of Delhi Police and give our continued concern and support to the cause of our suffering people in Manipur’s Chandel and the plights of our jailed students in Delhi. As usual, sharing the same spirit and conviction, they gave me the nod to go ahead with whatever will be good for the Nampi. I was made the organizing secretary of KSOD.

With everyone’s consent and blessing, I started calling up every student bodies from the Northeast India that very night. I also campaigned and sought the support of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU), Students’ Federation of India (SFI), and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). I called for another emergency meeting in Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Tapti Hostel mess hall on March 24, 2007. On behalf of KSOD, I appealed for their continued participation and support. The response and turn-out was good. Every student body agreed to support our cause and the upcoming-protest. We collectively agreed to hold the protest demonstration the next day, March 25, 2007.

Immediately after the emergency meeting, we sent two of our boys with the request for permission for protest demonstration in front of Delhi Police headquarters. The rest of us, who were not jailed, were busy mobilizing, writing placard and press release. Our senior leaders were doing their respective homework as well. Later, the two boys called me up saying that the DP would not allow us to hold protest demonstration in front of their headquarters. I called up Robin Hibu, an IPS officer from Arunachal who was posted in Delhi, to allow the protest demonstration to take place. He repeatedly asked me if it will be “peaceful” or not? I gave him all the assurance. He even told me that I would have to be personally responsible if anything untoward happens. I also agreed to that. I took the opportunity and told him of the high-handedness, ignorance and rustic behavior of his boys. Remember, they even called us “Chinese” when they pounded our boys and girls with their lathis. After long negotiation, he finally allowed us. I sighed big relief as we have already announced to everyone about the protest demonstration much before we secure the permission.

Well, that morning (March 24, 2007), it was disheartening to read the newspapers. The cause of our rally was poorly written. The newspapers devoted much of their space to the injury of DP constables and its officers, instead of the cause that compelled our inevitable protest. On the other hand, our boys and girls were framed under cases of robbery, theft, destruction of public property, and all those archaic cases that could fit our neck. It was unfortunate. However, the situation was like, they have a gun and we don’t have one. Those were also the reasons that compelled us to condemn the barbaric act of the Delhi Police.

The Third Demo

I remember waking up early on the morning of March 25, 2007. I asked myself who would turn out, after all that happened to us. I went to my office in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg’s press area, signed in and immediately walked down to the venue where the protest demonstration was to be held. Our appointed time was 11 AM. I was the first to reach the place. Not a soul yet!!! I told myself. I was doubting and questioning too many things. The DP and RAF had allotted a space in front of the ITO bus stand. It was walled by the DP buses on all sides, which made it impossible for others to see anything that unfolds behind those man-made walls. The place was crowded by DP and RAF personnel. Besides, many DP or mounted police were posted and ready with well fed horses in all strategic points. They must have planned-out everything in such a manner that not even a fly would find its exit if anything goes against them. Delhi Mounted Police was established during the 1930’s. Police horses have been extensively used in Police training institutions for training officers, for controlling huge crowds during rallies, processions, festivals etc. They are also used during ceremonial function and in high visibility patrolling in rural and outlying areas of Delhi. These colonial forces were employed when we held protest demonstration in front of the Delhi Police headquarters.

Not finding any soul, I called up Paolal Haokip and Luntinsat. To my relief they told me they are almost reaching. After long wait, I was relieved to see our own people trickling in with black ribbon tied to their mouth. The sight of them was very close to that sense of “independence” or “freedom.” The symbol and the language that they carry with them speak loud for anyone to see. Finally, we conducted the formal session again where we get to spill our hearts out and reason with everything that was taking place. Breaking journalistic practice, I moderated the event as the organizing secretary of KSOD. I failed to see other boundaries, but just the quest for truth at least clear on my side. Besides the media, there were significant members of the authorities present as well. Robin Hibu also came. He introduced me to two of his IPS colleagues. It is very rare that three IPS officers were put on duty to for such protest demonstration. Tak Chapa!!!

Many student organizations, rights bodies and NGO’s delivered solidarity messages. They all condemned the high-handedness of DP and RAF and also demanded the safe release of Kukis from the clutches of inhumane entrapment. We finally concluded the day’s programme with the song, “We Shall Overcome.”

After the demonstration, we were told that our jailed friends would be release from Tihar on the evening of March 25. We had to make necessary arrangement to welcome them back. So, we sought the help of JNUSU to allow us to use the Union’s facilities and the space before its office for the reception. Fortunately, they allowed us. After working out the details with KSO advisers, we set up a humble open hall in front of the Union’s office. Volunteers from various students’ organizations prepared dinner in the first floor of the Union’s office. We waited late into the night as we hope and pray for the immediate return of our friends. Despite high hopes, we were finally told that our friends were not coming back to us that night. We dispersed with our empty hearts.

The next day our elders and leaders ran from pillar to post for the release of our friends again. The archaic bureaucratic procedures were clogging our every move. However, when our time finally came, nothing could stop us. On the evening of March 26, 2007, before the sunset, our friends came home to us. We also got the news that our abducted brothers and sisters have also returned to their respective refugee camps in Chandel district again. We received our brothers and sisters as heroes, as they were. There were speeches; songs; laughter; tears, and joy. I don’t know with others, but I bagged the sense of winning that was a sweet prize. It was overflowing.

Today, the situation in Chandel is getting no better. Our brothers and sisters are still limping in fear and helplessness. But I have learned that one never lose in giving. I have also learned that we must continue to give if we have to live. Never leave the spirit.
 
The writer, a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, is an awardee of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards 2006-2007 in the Regional Award (Print Media) category.

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