Last week, on Thursday, as normal life came to a standstill in Manipur during a 24-hour shutdown in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, musician Akhu Chingangbam and his band Imphal Talkies & Howlers, headed to their studio in Nagamapal, located in the heart of Imphal.
In under four hours, the five of them put their heads together to mark their protest too, but through a way they knew best: music.
On Monday evening, the band uploaded their song, Stand United Against CAB, on Youtube.
The two-and-a-half-minute long black and white video — a compilation of footage from the various protests and rallies against the Bill underway in the Northeast over the last month — is partly rapped, and directed at the ruling-BJP government, condemning the party’s “atrocities” and “Hindutva propaganda”. “You dream to build your empire in my land but this is a kingdom made up of my ancestors’ sweat, blood and flesh” goes one part of the song.
The Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 9, seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minority communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan and has faced widespread opposition in the entire Northeast region, particularly Assam. The sister states fear that the Bill will destroy the indigenous identities of the various communities that reside in the region.
“We have so many issues in Manipur, before one issue is solved, the other erupts. From Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) to Inner Line Permit (ILP) to encounter killings — and now the Bill,” says Chingambam, 38, who has never shied away from using his music as a tool of political dissent. Previously, through his songs, he has spoken out against the AFSPA, fake encounter killings, as well as Irom Sharmila.
In this song, Chingangbam, who penned the lyrics, calls out the BJP government not just for the Bill but also for trying to “stifle the voices of people who have been speaking out”.
In one verse, he says: “You book people under NSA for speaking out against you, you shot my brothers in the street of Tripura, and now you wanna arrest Dr Hiren Gohain”
Earlier in November the state government booked local journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem under the National Security Act (NSA) for an anti-BJP Facebook post. The journalist is currently incarcerated in the Manipur Central jail in Sajiwa. In January, in Assam, noted public intellectual Dr Hiren Gohain, along with activist Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta were booked for sedition for speeches they made at a rally against the Citizenship Bill in Guwahati.
The Bill is now pending in the Rajya Sabha — but protest still continue through the region. On January 30, on Martyrs’ Day, families of 76 people killed during the Assam Agitation (1979-85) returned mementos Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had awarded them in 2016. On Sunday, renowned Manipuri filmmaker Aider Shyam Sarma returned his Padma Shree, also as a sign of protest.
“There are many more who oppose the the Bill — through my song I am trying to give them a voice,” says Chingambam, adding that Manipur has faced years of conflicts — “innocent lives had been killed by the army, many cases have gone unreported and now with the Bill, they want to bring outsiders? To the fascist BJP, I say: ‘no place for hindutva, no place for fanatics, no place for your politics’.”