Chronicling pre-Statehood days through the prison diary of Lamyanba NK Sanajaoba

Aheibam Koireng Singh
Celebrated writer and scholar CS Lewis once wrote, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny”. But Late Nongmeikakpam Sanajaoba popularly known as Lamyanba Sanajaoba who is without question accepted by one and all as the pioneer of investigative journalism in Manipur was no ordinary man. He took an active role in the formation of Pan Manipuri Youth League (PANMYL) in the year 1968. In 1969, he became the founding editor of the monthly journal, ‘Lamyanba’, brought out by PANMYL. The pages of Lamyanba, as a powerful mouthpiece of PANMYL having political overtones under his firebrand editorship were replete with series of write-ups against the wrongdoings and regularly exposed both the misdeeds and corruptions indulged in by high ranking officials of the Government both at the Centre and the State, and also the atrocities of the armed forces. The journal also endeavours to inculcate the spirit of Nationalism and patriotism among the youths of the State. One very notable and sensational report of Lamyanba which shocked the sensibilities and very much talked about with great notoriety by the Manipuri masses which can be mentioned was the rape of Miss Rose Ningshen, a 20 year old Tangkhul girl by BSF personnel and her agonies revealed in her suicide note. Later, after that brutal incident became public knowledge as reported by Lamyanba, an eminent dramatist recreated it in his play ‘Chanu Rose Sadum Phakkhrabee Nupi Amagee Tentha’ (Chanu Rose Lamentation of a woman flesh-feasted).
The translated suicide note of Miss Rose Ningshen addressed to her boyfriend, Mr. Stone is reproduced herein:
“Most beloved…
In a world seeded with envy, our love shall never bloom together like those lovely flowers in the same stalk but we will bloom radiantly in that pure everlasting place of our true love. That I am leaving this world should not bereave you to utter melancholy. A life driven by gale of sorrow and unrequited words mortifies my soul and leaves me to choose only this lone way. For the days to come, we made promises to be one and together in our lifelong journey. But oh! My love I could not make for that moment ! Oh! My life, none is there to receive your lot. What a pity! Oh! My vanquished soul every second bears the brunt of bereaved feelings, bringing me to the threshold of defeat. Even the tears which flow like an eternal spring now dries up. Those tears were the only image of my life. I will be remembering in those looming darkness of hell the tale of you and I. From dust to dust let this body embrace its birthplace; let the earth dissolve my remains. Oh! How enviable for that last glance, to see one last time of my image in your eyes, but alas! Fate deceives me at this last hour. I choose my own disgraceful death and lo! I will walk as an outcast forever. My love when you remember me, turn your eyes to those darkest horizon for I reside forever in the abyss of darkness. There, you will find me treading all alone with a heavy sigh of regrets in that long darkness.
“Love of my life! Feeling of sweet remembrance of those long hearty laughs and sharing each other woes fill my memory. At the dead of this night, far from here my love a deep slumber will be taking you to pleasant dreams. My last wish to see your visage shall ever remain unfulfilled as you are far from me… far across these ranges of hills.
“For my lovely friends, though I am unable to write each a parting letter I plead to you to tell them my last farewell. In this early morning, I am glancing over the distance of your lovely place Bungpa. Remember, my love, how I wish to shower all my feelings and love, all I have for you like a cascade flowing down in your ocean of love. Have you ever received the letter I sent to you on 6-2-73 ? What could have happened for not returning any reply from your side ? I have waited long and I am still waiting, but at the moment life steals away stealthily. Why and how did we ever get parted will only be known after you escape from this world. Oh Hell! Oh! Abyss of Darkness! I loathe going that dark passage. No one shall ever know who betrays whom. The secret is entombed forever.
“The life of a maiden dries up from blooming into a lovely flower and lays in the heathen… unadorned, unaccepted, untouched. Only regrets on my part for I am choked with words which I am unable to tell you everything at this moment. What remains of the sad tale I will narrate to you closely in another lifetime, in another eternity. I will end with this note my love ! That the only words that erupt from the truest, innermost part of me is the saddest part of our parting, the story of our failure to be together again.
Your Rose.”
Lamyanba emerged as a total diversion from the existing publications and periodicals of those times, as it pioneered investigative journalism in Manipur. He was imprisoned in August 1969. Many said, he was arrested on charge of sedition for lampooning the then Chief Commissioner of Manipur, Baleshwar Prasad as ‘Looter of Palace Gun’, ‘Amuraba Alibaba’ (Dark Alibaba) in his write-up at Lamyanba Journal, and a publication brought out by PANMYL titled, ‘What is wrong in Manipur ?’
Athokpam Tomchou, a well known playwright, who was with him together at the prison said, all of them, who got arrested in the same month of August, were charged under the same First Information Report (FIR) charging them with various sections relating with ‘sedition’ and ‘waging war against the State’. They were all arrested under FIR 350 (8) 69/ US 395/397/431/436/120B/IPC and 11 West Bengal Security Act & 25 @ Arms Act. NK Sanajaoba, along with some of those arrested in connection with sedition and waging war against the State, was accommodated at Room No. 1.
‘Raghu Gunda’ of Singjamrei Kshetri Leikai, infamous for his notoriety, imprisoned in connection with the criminal activities, was a ring-leader of all the prisoners. All of them feared him and were under his control. Even those who were years senior to him reverently called him ‘Tamo’ (meaning Elder Brother) out of fear. It was at his room that Sanajaoba and Tomchou together were accommodated. Prisoners were served fish curry every Friday. The fishes meant for jail inmates, before being taken to the kitchen room of the prison, considerable quantity of it used to be part of Raghu and stoked alive for his personal consumption and nobody objected. He ate it daily either fried or cooked at the kerosene stove in his room. NK Sanajaoba, being his locality elder, also, at his insistence used to have meals with him sharing his prepared fishes. All of them were freed after spending about 15 days in jail.
One Sanasam Joychandra from Chingamakha was killed in firing by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in connection with the agitation for demanding Statehood during the visit by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In its immediate aftermath, all of them including Sanajaoba who recently got released were again arrested under non-bailable warrant. Most of them were accommodated in Room no 12 together with some of the convicted Meitei State Committee rebels. Since Raghu was no longer in the prison, they also ate what was being served for all. The meal served was pest ridden badly odoured filthy Usna Rice for storing long in the godown. Fish curry was served every Friday. Otherwise it was ‘Dal’ most of the time though vegetables were occasionally served. If at times, new prisoners were sent in at the evening, the cook of the prison, just to make it sufficient, poured water in the vessel of the cooked dish. At that time, Ibomcha ‘Mijaba’ (Man-eater) of Meitei State Committee, along with some other convicts cooked food for the prisoners. The quantity of meal for a prisoner was just a bowl each of rice and dish. It seemed after having such food in the prison, a strong motive for protest and reformation was born in the minds of Sanajaoba.
It afterwards came to light in the subsequent events. As the first step, uncooked rice was distributed to each room in the morning before cooking. That was done so that prisoners could screen out the stones and pest from the rice grains for their consumption. Sanajaoba stored those stones and pests screened out from the rice in an empty Vicks Can and kept it safely with him. He later showed those pests and stones to the Jail superintendent when he came for the inspection visit and protested with a demand for providing quality food. The Superintendent, before he went, assured stating, ‘Yes, I’ll look into the matter’. Even then, nothing happened and there was no improvement.
(To be contd)