Today, the Supreme Court granted a three-week interim protection from arrest by the Manipur police to two co-editors of a book published in 2019 that commemorates the burning of a Kuki-Zo village, Lompi, by the British.
The petitioners, Dr Jangkhomang Guite and Dr Thongkholal Haokip, belong to the Kuki-Zo community.
Guite is an associate professor at the department of history at Manipur University in Imphal and Haokip is an assistant professor at the Centre for the Studies of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was hearing a writ petition challenging first information reports (FIRs) filed against the petitioners for co-editing the book.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, stressed that the book, co-edited by the petitioners, is a historic account of the Anglo–Kuki war.
Grover submitted that the petitioners have not yet received the copies of the FIRs. He also apprised the court that the petitioners are unable to procure a copy of the FIRs from the magistrate’s court in Manipur.
Taking Grover’s submission into account, the Bench directed that no coercive steps should be taken against the petitioners in connection with the FIRs.
The Bench also issued notice to the respondents as well as standing counsel for the state of Manipur, returnable in three weeks.
The petition states that the book, titled The Anglo–Kuki War 1917–1919: a Frontier Uprising Against Imperialism During the First World War, was released on October 17, 2018, and its physical copies were available in 2019.
According to the petition, the petitioners got to know that an FIR had been filed against them through social media on August 10.
The petition contends that the contents of the book were published in good faith, by academics who have been studying the Northeast and the Anglo–Kuki war.
Since no complaints were filed against the book until after the violence broke out in Manipur earlier this year, the petition alleges that the timing of FIRs was in connection with the sectarian conflict in Manipur.
Referring to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Amish Devgan versus Union of India (2021), the petition avers that the academic utterances in the book that are based on decades’ worth of research do not constitute hate speech actionable under Section 153A IPC.
On the question of invoking the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, the petition explains that the petitioners cannot go to Manipur to invoke the jurisdiction of the high court (under Article 226) as their life and limb is in danger.
Moreover, the petition states that despite a lot of efforts, the petitioners have not been able to get a lawyer in Manipur to file a petition.
The petition, thus, seeks the quashing of the FIRs filed against the petitioners in the Imphal West district.
The petition also seeks the production of FIRs and to direct a stay of the investigation and proceeding, pending the hearing of the present petition.
Threat faced by Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing’s lawyers
Grover submitted that he will also file an affidavit explaining the threat to the lawyers representing Dr Kham Khan Suan Hausing, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, in Manipur High Court.
A second FIR was filed against Dr Hausing on the ground that his name had been added to the electoral roll of the Churachandpur assembly constituency in 2005 allegedly using fraudulent means.
On August 14, the Supreme Court had granted Dr Hausing a two-week interim protection from arrest by the Manipur police.
The three advocates engaged by Grover to represent Dr Hausing in the Manipur High Court have withdrawn due to alleged threats by members of their own (Meitei) community.
One of the lawyer’s houses was vandalised by a mob.
Notably, today, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) passed a resolution to express solidarity with Soraisham Chittaranjan, the lawyer whose house was ransacked.
The resolution underlines that lawyers are free to appear for any litigant and condemned any attempt to intimidate lawyers that has the effect of interfering with the administration of justice.
The SCBA urged the state government and local police to provide protection to the lawyers facing threats and to take immediate action against the guilty.
Click here to read the order.