"Freedom Of Speech Is Very Important In A Democracy" Manipur Journalist Who Spent 134 Days In Jail For Criticising The Govt
“Freedom of Speech is very important for every citizen living in the largest democracy of the world”, this is what journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem said who was released from jail yesterday (April 10 2019) after he spent 134 days in jail for criticising Manipur CM and PM Modi. The 39-year old Manipur journalist was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) for criticising BJP, RSS, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh. Wangkhemcha was voicing his protest against commemorative rally for Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. He stated that Rani Lakshmibai’s contribution was unrelated to the state.
“Don’t betray, don’t insult the freedom fighters of Manipur,” he said in one of the posts. He also called CM “a puppet of Modi & Hindutva” for pushing for such rally. The High court of Manipur quashed his detention order and ordered his immediate release.
The Logical Indian spoke with Kishorechandra Wangkhem and his wife Ranjita Elangbam.
Do you feel the Freedom of Speech in the country is threatened?
I believe that after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come to power, there are a lot of incidences where the party has suppressed the voice of citizens. Freedom of Speech is included there very much in the Indian Constitution which means one cannot be deprived of this. The current government has very much barred even media houses from publishing stories in past. This cannot be accepted and is very wrong.
What according to you is media’s role in safeguarding Freedom of Speech?
Press is the fourth pillar of democracy. However, we are living in an era where the government is taking over media houses. This has made those particular media houses turn blind to government’s wrongdoing and never report on it thus failing to serve its sole purpose. The government should always welcome criticism to function properly. If a media is criticising the current government for its incompetence, then it is the government’s duty to better look at the incidence and try to fix it rather than calling the media “biased”.
You criticised BJP for celebrating the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai, any comments on that?
See first of people need to understand that I am not a separatist. I am an Indian citizen and truly love my country. The fact that I condemned BJP for celebrating Rani Lakshmibai’s birth anniversary is that state government (BJP) is not celebrating its state freedom fighters. I feel we first of all need to give importance to our own freedom fighters who have sacrificed their lives to help the state achieve independence. The BJP under the guidance of RSS is forcing their ideology on each and every state. The government has to be cognisance to a region’s history. If the same thing continues, the history of northeastern states will fade away slowly. Does this mean I don’t praise or appreciate Lakshmibai’s sacrifice? Of course, I have immense respect for her.
The NSA was slapped upon you by the Central Govt. Do you feel that NSA is wrongfully imposed nowadays?
The NSA was certainly wrongly imposed on me. While I was in jail I even heard from the news that people were slapped with NSA for allegedly killing cows. I understand that NSA is slapped when there is a potential threat from that person to the country’s security. I don’t understand how they imposed it on me.
What do you think about the Sedition Act?
Well, I feel a country can taste the true essence of freedom only if the sedition law is scrapped. I feel it is that law which is barring people from showcasing the government its faculties. It is appaling that a colonial-era law still exists in our system. It is interesting to know the Britishers who shaped the law in the first case have scrapped it off in United Kingdoms. Why are we still following it?
Do you feel AFSPA violates human rights?
I feel AFSPA certainly harasses an innocent citizen of the country. The AFSPA law which originated during the freedom struggle needs to be reviewed now. It has been a long time, and there has not been any change in it. I feel reviewing it or amending it will actually help the government to build a strong connection with its citizens. Amending the law will make it more human.
What are your plans now?
Well after my release, I have already received multiple requests to join politics, but I have not thought about it as of now. Right now I will continue being journalists and continue my fight for freedom of speech. I will be more vocal and write more article or blogs so that my voice reaches to everyone in this.
The last four months were difficult for you Ranjita Ma’am. Can you tell us how you managed it?
Well, it was certainly the toughest time that we both faced together. With he being in jail, I had to reach out to people to help my husband get justice. The most crucial thing was to restore the family’s dignity and make people realise that Wangkhem did not do anything wrong. He was wrongly arrested. I always had hope in the judiciary. His release was Justice delayed but not denied.