Recent events in Manipur have sent shockwaves through the legal community and sparked concerns about the safety of legal professionals and the integrity of the legal system.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) has issued a press release vehemently condemning the vandalism at the residence of Meitei community advocate Soiraisham Chitaranjan, as well as the broader challenges faced by advocates in the region.
In a troubling turn of events, a mob reportedly targeted the residence of advocate Soraisham Chitaranjan, a member of the Meitei community, on August 31 and September 1. This act of vandalism has raised serious concerns about the safety and security of legal professionals like Chitaranjan and their ability to carry out their duties without fear of reprisals.
Chitaranjan had been representing Professor Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a prominent political scientist from the Kuki-Zo community, in a legal case before the High Court. He clarified that his role in the case was limited to filing documents, with senior lawyer Anand Grover handling the legal proceedings on behalf of Professor Hausing who found himself entangled in legal proceedings after expressing his views on the sectarian violence in Manipur during an interview with an online news portal. His articulation of these views led to the filing of a First Information Report (FIR) against him in July 2023.
In a bid to secure legal counsel for his defence, advocate Soraisham Chitaranjan, along with advocates Th. Zinggo and Ch. Victor, agreed to represent Professor Hausing in court. Their involvement was prompted by senior lawyer Anand Grover, who took up the case.
However, it is noteworthy that Chitaranjan, along with two other advocates, Chongtham Victor and A Priyokumar Sharma, submitted an application to the Manipur High Court requesting to withdraw from representing Professor Hausing. They cited "certain personal difficulties," and this request was accepted by Justice A Guneshwar Sharma.
The ITLF's press release also sheds light on the threats faced by Meitei advocates, including Chitaranjan, allegedly from a radical Meitei group known as the Arambai Tenggol. This group has been accused of leading attacks against the Kukis following ethnic clashes that erupted in Manipur on May 3.
Professor Hausing, who teaches political science at the University of Hyderabad, expressed that the withdrawal of Meitei advocates from his case was due to these threats, further underscoring the serious security concerns in the region.
The ITLF press release strongly condemns the accusations against Professor Hausing, seeing them as an attempt to silence tribal voices advocating for their community's concerns. It highlights the alarming level of intolerance and radicalization among the Meiteis, as lawyers from within their own community faced threats while performing their legal duties.
Furthermore, the press release alleged that “the Meitei community is using the legal system as a vehicle of harassment.” It points to the several court cases that have been filed against individuals and organisations, including Kuki Women’s Forum convenor Mary Grace Zou, Wilson L. Hangsing, co-founder of the Kuki People’s Alliance, ITLF Spokesperson Ginza Vualzong, and even India's oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles.
“Even India’s oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, is not immune to the Meitei community’s penchant for filing FIRs. Manipur Police, controlled by the Meitei community, filed a criminal case against Assam Rifles in August for its refusal to toe the line of the majority community,” read the release.
These events underscore the need for a closer examination of the legal system's role in Manipur and the safety of legal professionals who are simply fulfilling their duties. It remains essential to uphold the principles of justice and freedom of expression in the region.
The ITLF's press release serves as a stark reminder of the challenges facing legal professionals and their clients in Manipur's complex socio-political landscape. It calls for a comprehensive and impartial investigation into these incidents to ensure justice and safety for all.