Sunday, April 29, 2012

1 lakh seek justice for Manipur youth

1 lakh seek justice for Manipur youth

Calcutta, April 28: A campaign that gets the support of more than one lakh people in a span of a few days, be it in the virtual world of Facebook, clamours for attention.

The one lakh-plus people who have registered support for the Facebook campaign, Justice for Richard Loitam, whose death and subsequent efforts to pass it off as an accident has stirred up a hornet's nest, are angry.

As the group acquires leviathan proportions, the administrators, fearing fiery outpourings, had to close it from external comments.

Richard, a 19-year-old from Imphal West and a student of architecture at Bangalore's Acharya Institute of Architecture, allegedly died of cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep on April 17, hours after he got into a brawl with a fellow student over the remote control while watching an IPL match.

The FIR, however, has no mention of a fight. And a few loose statements on suspicion of drug abuse by Richard only made matters worse.

The thousands who seek justice for Richard are far from satisfied with the proceedings of the investigation. For many others, the incident has served as an eye opener on the way justice can be denied.

The indignation is symbolised in a way by Yogesh Thangjam, who studies in Salem in Tamil Nadu and has travelled to Bangalore to participate in a public protest for the first time tomorrow.

"Brought up in an army background, I have never participated in any political activity. This incident, however, shook me. What happened and the way things are being covered up is scary," he said.

Like Yogesh, thousands from Manipur and other parts of the country will hit the streets in Bangalore, Delhi, Imphal, Pune and Hyderabad tomorrow, said Monika Khangembam, the organiser of the campaign in Bangalore and an administrator of the Facebook campaign.

"We are expecting over a thousand people to turn up in Bangalore. We hope that with the very first move, we can at least make the authorities understand our discontent. Following Sunday's programme, we plan to send a petition to the Prime Minister, demanding a proper investigation," she said.

The campaign is unlikely to end on this note and Monika is battle ready. "We are aware that the going will not be easy, as the institute will try to safeguard its reputation. But we will not give up," she said.

The Imphal chapter of the protest, comprising a candlelight march from Richard's house at Uripok Yambem Leikai till Kangla Gate, will serve another important purpose — to put pressure on the Manipur government to take an initiative in the case.

State home minister Gaikhangam has written to his Karnataka counterpart R. Ashok to ensure justice, as the incident has scared off other Manipuris residing there.

Anita Sougaijam, who is co-ordinating the movement in Imphal, is confident of a huge turnout.

"We will definitely have a lot of people turning up tomorrow. I hope the government acts on this issue. Government intervention is crucial to bring it to the notice of the higher authorities," she said.

In Delhi, the Manipuri Students' Association, the largest body of Manipuri diaspora in the country, has given a call for a sit-in at Jantar Mantar, followed by a candlelight vigil.

The number of people assuring participation in all these cities is increasing steadily, with numerous rights activists joining in.

Binalakshmi Nepram, founder, Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, and secretary general, Control Arms Foundation of India, said on Facebook that they would leave no stone unturned to ensure justice.

"We must pursue that the institution is held accountable, culprits caught, the roommate and other witnesses interrogated by police and their testimonies kept and the case fought strongly. I also requested Richard's mother to draft a memorandum to be submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, the home minister, the Karnataka chief minister, and others. The fight will be long," she said.

People from all walks of life from across the country have joined the group. Many people from Calcutta, where any programme is yet to be planned, are eager to join this campaign for justice.

Journalist Sreecheta Das, who joined the group last night, is hooked to the wall for updates.

So is Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman who wants to initiate the Calcutta chapter of the campaign. The presence of a Prerna Purohit, an Ayesha Siddiqui or a Kunal Ghotge makes it clear that the issue is not just that of Manipur or the Northeast but a larger quest for justice.

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