9/4/20235 min read

Imphal: An Imphal-based social worker filed a first information report (FIR) against the three who came to Manipur from August 7 to 10 - Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor, and Bharat Bhushan alleging the report submitted by them as "false, fabricated and sponsored". The Editors' Guild of India (EGI) president is also mentioned as an accused in the FIR

A police case has been filed against three members of a crowdfunded fact-finding team of the Editors' Guild of India over allegations that the report submitted by the team was "false, fabricated and sponsored". The 3-member fact-finding team - Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor, and Bharat Bhushan was in Manipur from August 7 to 10 to look into media's reportage of the ethnic conflict.

The report of the Editors' Guild of India (EGI) released on Saturday said there are clear indications that the leadership of the state became partisan during the conflict. "It should have avoided taking sides in the ethnic conflict, but it failed to do its duty as a democratic government which should have represented the entire state," the report concluded.

Imphal-based social worker N Sarat Singh filed a first information report (FIR) against Seema Guha, Sanjay Kapoor Bharat Bhushan and the EGI president stating that the EGI report captioned the photo of a burning structure in Churachandpur district as a "Kuki house".

However, the building was a Forest Department beat office that was set on fire by a mob on May 3, the day large-scale violence broke out in the district, following a protest by the hill-majority Kuki tribes against the valley-majority Meiteis over the Meiteis' demand for Scheduled Tribes (ST) status.

An FIR filed on May 3 evening by a policeman, sub-inspector Jangkholal Kipgen, said "a large number of angry crowds" damaged the Forest Department beat office with "fire or explosive substances".

The EGI report further alleged the Manipur government branded all Kuki tribes as "illegal immigrants" after some 4,000 refugees fleeing the military coup in neighbouring Myanmar crossed into Manipur. The EGI in the report faulted the state government for taking a series of steps that led to resentment among the Chin-Kukis to build up. "The state government seems to have facilitated the majority's anger against the Kukis through several seemingly partisan statements and policy measures," the report said.

The social worker in the FIR, however, alleged the EGI report has not mentioned key facts about large-scale illegal immigration to Manipur that threatens the indigenous people with a demographic change.

"The abnormal population growth in Manipur is also evident from the fact that the Census of 2001 has not been finalised for the nine hills subdivision of the state due to the abnormal decadal growth of the population up to 169 per cent," N Sarat Singh said in the FIR.

"Recently, the Election Commission of India identified 1,33,553 photo similar entries in Manipur's electoral roll," he said, adding steps are being taken to delete duplicate voters. "... It is very alarming, and it proves the fact that there are various unaccounted populations existing in Manipur having illegally come from neighbouring countries including Myanmar," the social worker said in the FIR.

The complainant took strong exception to the allegation in the EGI report that only 10 per cent of the state's funds go towards development of hill areas.

"That it is also completely false for the accused to deliberately state that only about 10 per cent of the funds (go) for development of hill areas. Whereas the true fact as per the finding of the committee of officers is that about 40 per cent of the developmental funds of the state is invested in the hill areas of the state," the social worker said in the FIR, which includes the findings of the committee that were presented to the state assembly in 2021.

Manipur BJP MLA Rajkumar Imo Singh, in a post on X on August 24, said there has been a substantial increase in the development expenditure in the hill districts over the past four-five years, reaching almost 46 per cent of the budget in 2021.

The EGI report faulted Imphal valley-based media as being biased in favour of the Meitei community.

"The Meitei media, for that is what Manipur media seemed to have become during the conflict, acted collectively with editors consulting each other and agreeing on a common narrative... This, the EGI team was told, was because they did not want to inflame the already volatile situation further... However, the downside of such an approach during ethnic violence is that it can easily slip into forging a common ethnic narrative and lead to a collective downslide of journalistic principles by deciding what to report and what to censor," the EGI report said in its concluding remarks.

Responding to the allegation, the All Manipur Working Journalists Union, and the Editors' Guild of Manipur said they have taken strong exception to the "half-baked so-called fact-finding report."

"The report has many contentions and wrong representations which are damaging to the reputation of the journalist community in the state, especially Imphal-based news outlets," the Manipur journalists' collective and the Editors' Guild of Manipur said in the statement.

Meanwhile, the Manipur Government has reacted sharply to the ‘fact-finding mission report prepared by a three-member team of Editors Guild of India (EGI) that Manipur government and its machinery especially police force was largely one sided and Meira Paibis were “cheerleaders of the violent mobs attacking Kuki houses”. Chief minister N Biren Singh said any attempt of targeting a particular community without fully aware of ground reality and genesis of the violent clashes, by a prestigious institution like EGI was unacceptable and shameful. “We don’t know to whom they approached and how they came to the conclusion that the state government was one-sided,” the CM said

The Chief Minister added that if asked his government could provide all proof, videos and evidence how the present violence started. Unfortunately, he said that “the EGI didn't do that.”

Reacting to the allegation that the Government was targeting the Kuki-Zo community using the Forest Act, the Chief Minister said the EGI had no comprehension of the Reserve Forest Act and that it was simply adopting a narrative. He said that the action of the state government was to safeguard and protect the forest as per the provisions of the Act passed by the Parliament. To substantiate, Biren Said that 413 houses, which were illegally constructed inside the Reserve Forest, were removed by his government. Of them, 59 belonged to Kukis, 143 (Meitei), 137 (Meitei Pangal/Muslims), 38 (Naga) and 36 (Nepali) houses.

The three journalists came to Manipur on a crowdfunded visit to prepare the report. The EGI on July 26 posted on X, asking for donations to fund "a fact-finding mission to document media's coverage of the Manipur ethnic clashes."

Waari Singbul learned from Government sources that it is considering looking into the sources of donations of the three-member EGI team, as crowdfunding such a sensitive exercise may have been a wrong step due to the possibility of being influenced by donors with vested interests.

The EGI is yet to give a statement on the FIR.

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