By Yambem Laba
On the 30th of June 1993 the day R.K.Sanatomba was shot dead by suspected UNLF activists the bulk of journalists who mattered in Manipur was in Darjeeling as a part of AMWJU trip to Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Darjeeling. Pradip Phanjoubam and Pokanapham`s Eigya Gopal were also there besides me. We got the news the next day through an agency dispatch that got carried in the Calcutta papers.
Not many of us knew who Sanatomba was but I knew that he was R.K.Nemai`s brother and for about half an hour we discussed about who the assailants might have been but when it was told that he was Editor of a journal called Kangla Lanpung we knew that it had something to do with the on-going strife brewing up in the UNLF, the one led by R.K.Meghen aka Sanayaima now interned in Gauhati Jail and he once trusted aide Namoijam Oken. We did not even stood in silence for a minute then in memory of the departed soul maybe because he was not a member of the All Manipur Working Journalists Union or maybe because we were not just sensitive enough to the scenario opening up for scribes in Manipur.
Sanatomba was not a numbered member of the UNLF that he should have been caught in the fratricidal wave that was sweeping across Manipur was not thinkable then..He was just another youth who loved Manipur and was caught in the cross currents of the turbulent history of Manipur and maybe he followed the late Achou Toijamba too closely and became the founder general secretary of the Manipur National Federation or the Man Federation as it was known then. Achou Toijamba or Tachou as we used to call him during the Pan-Manipuri days used to spend a lot of time at our household as my cousin was the late Yambem Tejendra former General Secretary of the Pan Manipuri Youth League and Editor of the Lamyanba journal. Tachou is no more with us today but he was a master organiser and later became the founding Chairman of the KYKL when it was finally formed in January 1994 amalgamating factions of the KCP and Prepak and UNLF Cadres who chose to follow Oken.The killings did not stop with Sanatomba and the KYKL hit back with full gusto culminating in the killing of Arambam Samarendra founder General Secretary of the UNLF .He was killed on the 10th of June 2000 and the KYKL later owned up responsibility for the action. Sometime later thanks to the efforts of the Prepak hostilities between the UNLF ceased and everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
However the killings of journalists did not cease. It spread to the hill areas and A Lalrohu Hmar editor a Hmar Language daily , Shan was shot dead by the Hmar Revolutionary Army in October 1999.Then came the turn of 70 years old Thounaojam Brajamani Editor of the Manipur News.He was shot dead on 20th August 2000 by an armed organisation who did not own up the Killing.The same group that did away with Brajamani is also believed to have fired the fatal shots that killed Yambem Megha an upcoming social activist and a correspondent of the North East Vision a TV channel on 14 October 2012.
.Again there was no owning up.And all that the scribes could do was to stage a day long dharna in front of the Keishampat Power house on both the killings.The police registered their mandatory FIRs and all was forgotten soon.
Then came the killing in 2008 of Konsam Rishi Kanta a young scribe with the Imphal Free Press by suspected Manipur Police Commandos. This time the journalist fraternity really woke up and put enough pressure on the State authorities that they were compelled to order a CBI probe into the killing. In January 2012 another journalist in Churachandpur by the name of Khupkholin Simte was also gunned down. He was the editor of Lenlai magazine. Then came the killing in the not so recent past of another fellow TV journalist, Nanao Thangjam in the line of duty when he was shot dead by police personals in Thangmeiband on 24 December 2012.This time the entire who`s who of the State machinery turned up at the Press Club to pay their last respect to our slain comrade as a fallout of the infamous molestation case of budding Manipuri film starlet Momoko in Chandel. The Press now a much more cohesive body the AMWJU was able to wrest out a big compensation for his killing and a government job for his widowed wife.
While the Press could stand up against wrongs done to its fraternity it still could not get away from the vortex of the non-state actors.On 9th February Ratan Luwang then General Secretary of the AMWJU was shot at by one of the numerous factions of the KCP who wanted a quick and easy name for themselves as a deadly force perhaps to ease their path to extortion and labelled baseless charges against Ratan to justify their action-which was not only contradicted by himself in person but also by the KYKL. Ratan survived the deadly attack but had to undergo intensive medical treatment and is today a national leader of the Press fraternity.
The Press continues to be part of the game plan of the numerous group of `patriotic` armed non-state actors many of whom have not even fired a catapult(Naori) shot even at an unarmed home guard personnel but is active in planting bombs at residences of SOs, Pradhans and contractors all in the name of liberating Manipur. They would like to diktat their terms of what to print or not to print or broadcast prompting the AMWJU to come with a set of `working rules` and as a result the then President of AMWJU Ahongsangabam Mobi got a bomb hurled at his house which incidentally exploded.
I was present on Sanatomba`s 12th Death Anniversary-this being the first time I was invited and listened to Prof.RajendraKshetri`s discourse on Media and Contemporary Manipuri Society as a part of the observance.He was full of praise for the Manipuri media but I found him lacking in the role of the Press in Manipur as the 4th Estate in the literal sense of the term.I recollect running a column called the Acute Angle in the Imphal Free Press which was actually playing the role of the opposition in the State Assembly revealing scams after scam.The opening salvo of the Acute Angle was entitled `Potrait of a Minister as a Conman` and a series of articles thereafter contributed in my humble opinion to the fall of the then Rishang Government in 1997. While Nipamacha could garner enough votes on the Assembly Floor to topple Rishang the public opinion against Rishang Government was built up by the Acute Angles.I am mentioning this because Prof.Rajendra had mentioned about how ArunShourie`s article led to the dismissal of the A R Antulay Government in Maharastra.
Then there is also the infamous case of the Lottery Scam-when the then Finance Minister in the Nipamacha Government , H. Lokhon attempted to wave Rs.1.67 crores due to the State from three Lottery Agents of Manipur all in the name of resource mobilisation. Oja Nipamcha was forced to withdraw the waiver order and constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee to probe the Lottery dealings in Manipur. Then after sometime the sub-committee was constituted I had a very surprised visitor at my office in the form of former fellow scribe and then a Cabinet Minister in the Nipamacha ministry, Pu T.N.Haokip-he was a member of the Cabinet sub-committee and came to me with a request to me to make available copies of the Government documents in my possession ,for according to him the Finance Minister had burnt all the documents relating to the lotteries in Manipur. This then was and is still Manipur, a failed State which for us scribes is a `Reporter`s Paradise`.
Relating to the coverage of the National media on affairs in Manipur I cannot speak about other national media but The Statesman for which I had served as a Special Correspondent between 1990 -1998 was more pro-active in coverage of events in Manipur than many of our local media.For instance two articles which I wrote,the first entitled `UNLF`s Long March to Geneva` and the second was` PLA: A New Dawn` was according to many legal experts could have been termed seditious in nature was published in The Statesman.And also during the Naga: Kuki killing days I got three by lined headlines stories printed on three consecutive days in my paper.Also how one handles the head office either in Calcutta or Delhi can determine how they treat our dispatches-for where in India do you find MLAs armed with guns in hand seeking out to kill the Speaker in the Assembly building except in Manipur and how we package our story with a national relevance is what matters for coverage in the national media in my most humble opinion.
I took a 14 years Sabbatical from active journalism during which I had served as a Member in the Manipur Human Rights Commission and later also as Director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy but in 2012 I returned as the Special Representative of The Statesman and am currently facing a Rs.50 Crores defamation suit from Utlou Chaoba President of the Manipur BJP for exposing his corrupt deeds at RIMS and elsewhere.
Anyway thanks to the efforts of Sanatomba`s elder brother R.K.Nemai who by his own account is one of the most incorruptible and steadfast officer that Manipur has seen in recent times Sanatomba lives on in the minds and memories of Manipur and also lending recognition and encouragement bestowing an award to a selected scribe thereby encouraging and supporting the media fraternity in the State.
At this juncture my humble appeal to the powers that are at the All Manipur Working Journalists Union is to put up a scroll of honour at the Press Club depicting the names of the journalists who had been killed in their line duty beginning with Sanatomba and ending with Nanao irrespective of whether they members of AMWJU or not, with a lot of space below for more journalists might be shot dead in the near future still.
And as for me all that I can say and that too I think represents the feelings of many of my fellow scribes is `Sanatomba, forgive us for we could not mourn for you,when you died`