It was a chilly January morning in Guwahati in 2011. Thounaojam Brinda and her husband RK Chinglen had reached the Sessions Court. A National Investigation Agency court was due to try among other cases, the case of Rajkumar Meghen, the chairman of the banned insurgent group United National Liberation Front. Brinda and her husband took a seat on a wooden bench next to the courtroom door. They had to wait for about four hours before Meghen was brought in.
It was the first time Brinda was meeting her father-in-law, a man she would refer to as Uncle. It was also the first time her husband, Chinglen, was seeing his father.
Meghen or Sana Yaima, the man who led one of the most violent secessionist movements in Manipur, had left his wife and two sons and trekked to the unified militant camp of Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang in Myanmar’s Somra Tract in 1975. Chinglen, the younger son, was barely a few days old then.
Thirty-six years later, in 2011, the father and son finally met in the courtroom after Meghen was arrested. In a piece that Brinda subsequently wrote for the Sangai Express, a popular newspaper in Manipur, she spoke of how “her husband received his father in arms and closely scrutinized his father’s face with the tip of his fingers… like the way he does to our son”.
Later that year, the 33-year-old lawyer and mother of two appeared for the preliminary exams of the Manipur Police Service Commission. When the process was over, Brinda was 34th in order of merit among 138 successful candidates. She received a letter of offer and accepted it, only to find her name missing from the appointment list. The Manipur government said she and her mother-in-law had “openly expressed solidarity and support to her father-in-law, indicating her sympathy towards the UNLF”. If she was appointed to the Manipur Police, the order said, she would “be in a position to disclose and compromise the policies of the department. It is likely to make the department highly vulnerable to the designs of the UNLF”. Several petitions later Brinda was given the post.
Less than three years after donning the uniform, Deputy Superintendent of Police Thounoujam Brinda, attached to the 9th IRB Mahila Battalion, resigned, calling the decision voluntary and personal in her official letter. But in this interview she struck hard at her department for lack of trust.
In your official resignation letter to Manipur’s Director General of Police you mention personal and family reasons for your resignation. But now you seem to indicate harassment and a lack of trust from the department.
The state had an innate distrust of a daughter-in-law of RK Meghen, a leader of a proscribed organisation; this may be contested, but this is my firm understanding. The trust deficit for the family is firmly rooted in a long history. Thus, we were fated to end up in an environment where there is no mutual trust. I sincerely wanted to serve the people and help heal the otherwise estranged relationship between the civil police and people. I was wrong. The selective harassment started from the appointment itself when the state made my selection in the exam a constitutional issue.
What is the nature of this harassment you were subjected to?
I always felt that I was singled out for ‘treatment’ in the Manipur Police service under the tutelage of the government headed by His Excellency, the Governor of Manipur. But I took everything in stride and came out successfully. The worse harassment came from the Commandant of the battalion I was posted in. I am not complaining of workload. I felt there was a lack of trust in me by the organisation as a whole. The harassments meted out to me were [inflicted] on my dignity. There were humiliating harassments.
The Manipur government has set up a committee to look at the reasons for your resignation and you have been summoned thrice. Why have you not appeared before the committee?
I have not responded, as I do not believe the committee is neutral. I do not have faith in the members of the committee. How can you trust the people who hounded you?
You say you have faced discrimination on account of being the daughter-in-law of RK Meghen. Why did you want to be in the police force in the first place?
Police was never a choice for me, as I had appeared for the selection of the Manipur Public Service Commission. They made me a police officer; it was not my choice. Had they given me the appointment as they do to any citizen of this land, I would have opted for a civil option. I was appointed sub judice while the case was pending in the Manipur High Court.
Your father-in-law is the leader of a banned organisation, a rebel and you are a police officer expected to act against the likes of him. How do you reconcile these two aspects, at a personal level?
My father-in-law has always been a leader of my people [since] long before I met my husband. There is no disputing that. My being a police officer and him being a rebel never deterred me from the will to serve people and the larger interest of the people.
Your resignation is also being linked to the disclosures made by Head Constable Herojit Singh who confessed that he shot an unarmed 22-year-old, Chungkham Sanjit Meitei, at the orders of the Superintendent of Police Imphal West. Did Herojit come to you before he made those disclosures?
Herojit is a member of my extended family. I have known him throughout my marriage. I never spoke to him on this or any other professional matter. As I prepared to submit my resignation in the first week of January this year, he contacted me. He let me know of his intention to confess everything. I got worried for his safety. I had no advice for him except to entrust him to trusted family friends. It was his choice to take it.
In your resignation letter you write, “If I maybe of service to the State and the Constitution in the future, I am still requesting its violators to abide by and uphold it if we truly want a vibrant Manipur and a more colorful and vibrant India”. Why did you write this in the letter and who are you willing to request – your father-in-law RK Meghen?
I want people to realise why they have been suffering. This system supports both non-state and state actors. People are just pawns in their hands.
Your father-in-law is a non-state actor too. Have you been asked by the state government to reach out to him to come to the talking table?
I am for the people. People should not suffer on account of any ‘actor’. Apart from this I have no comment on things I have no control over.
At their ancestral home in Yaiskul in Imphal where Brinda and Chinglen live with their children and his mother, there is whole-hearted acceptance of Brinda’s decision to leave the force. Perhaps there were forewarnings of this all along.
The family’s history of soldiery is scattered all over. A place of pride is reserved for sepia-toned pictures of Bir Tikendrajit, Manipur’s beloved patriot. In 1891 the young prince led the state against the British in the Anglo-Manipur war. He was hanged to death and his martyrdom made him immortal. There are not too many pictures of his great-grandson Meghen. The family had to burn most of the images soon after he left.
A photograph of Chinglen’s grandfather and Meghen’s father, Madhuryajit Singh, as a handsome young man commissioned into the Indian Military Academy in 1933 from the royal quota is propped against a wall. So is that of Meghen’s elder brother Ranendrajit Singh. He was commissioned as a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force and took part in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan conflicts. Ranendrajit Singh had to leave the force in 1972 when he found he was constantly being trailed. “The force was uncomfortable with my brother who was fighting the Indian State at the time,” Ranendrajit said.
More than three decades later, many would say not much has changed.
Anubha Bhonsle is a Fulbright Humphrey Fellow, 2015-16 and the author of Mother, Where's My Country?