The suffocating presence of the Indian Army on the Manipur University campus

21 October 2018

On 16 October, six teachers and eight students of the Manipur University, who had been arrested nearly a month ago following a complaint from the vice chancellor’s office, were released from the state’s Sajjwa Central Jail. They were arrested in relation to an agitation seeking an investigation into allegations against mismanagement and financial irregularities against the vice chancellor AP Pandey, which has been ongoing at the university since May. On 21 September, over 90 students and teachers had been detained after a midnight raid at the university’s men’s hostel, though most were released the next day.

Manipur University has witnessed a long history of student agitation. At present, it is one of several universities across the country swept by a wave of student protests, from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, to the University of Hyderabad in Telangana. In her first book, The Ferment: Youth Unrest in India, writer and journalist Nikhila Henry studies the protests, agitations and marches across India universities. Henry argues that these incidents are not isolated or sporadic, but the consequence of a fractured and discriminatory society. In the following excerpt from the book, Henry discusses the presence of the Indian Army at the Manipur University and across the state, and its impact on the lives of students. One of the students asked her, “This is the only university which has an army camp on its campus. What does that tell you?”

Sixty cement steps up a winding stair. That’s all that separated Manipur University located in Imphal, Manipur, from the army camp. When Peter and I started our ride from the students’ union office of the university, it was 5.30 pm Indian Standard Time and the last light of the day was already upon us. “Do you know of Chittaranjan?” Peter asked as we took the campus tour. His Honda Activa vroomed past the hillock that held both the Assam Rifles camp and a Durga shrine. A board at the foot of the hill displayed a reminder of the past:

Langthabal [Konung] Ching (A Hillock): On top of this hillock, a temple and its mandapa constructed during the reign of Maharaj Churachand Singh who established here a summer palace complex.

Armed men in uniform stood guard atop the stairs that led to the palace-turned-army camp. “This is the only university which has an army camp on its campus. What does that tell you?” Peter asked. As he turned the bike towards the Humanities wing of the residential campus, he returned to Chittaranjan, whose death had much to do with decades of army presence that reinforced restrictions in Manipur. “He was from Bishenpur. He killed himself demanding [the] repeal of AFSPA,” Peter said.

Nikhila Henry has been reporting on education, youth affairs and social welfare for over a decade, while working with the Times of India and The Hindu. She edited and compiled, Rohith Vemula's online diary, Caste is Not a Rumour. The Ferment is her first book.

Keywords: Manipur student protest Manipur University AFSPA Indian Army universities
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