Now that the Lokpal Bill is passed, and Anna Hazare can rightfully seeing off a bill that was on the anvil for over four decades, it is a good time to turn our attention towards those who are still fighting for a right to live.
Ronid Chingangbam tries to do exactly that, using his music to show the nation how there are people living their lives in the fear of not returning home every time they step out.
In the first of a two-part interview with DNA’s Kanika Sikka, Ronit, whose Imphal Talkies n the Howlers recently released a moving song speaking to the State on behalf of the marginalised, talks about the strife in the Northeast, the AFSPA, Irom Sharmila’s struggle, why he doesn't care for the anti-corruption movement and more.
How and when did Imphal Talkies n the Howlers take shape?
I composed several songs while doing my masters when I didn’t have any money to record my songs. When I started my PhD I got my scholarship money, which I decided to use for my music. I went back to Imphal and met an old friend there. Together, we formed a band that included my sister and we recorded an album.
Back in Delhi I play at protest events alone and perform at various protest gatherings.
How did you decide on making music related to issues like AFSPA and minority rights?
I always wanted to do something for the minority communities.
I have grown up seeing atrocities by the government and protests all around. When I came to Delhi, I saw how different our life is from the rest of the country. I realised how secure life is for people outside Imphal. We, the north eastern people, are not treated as Indians. We are considered to be guests in our own country.
This is how can relate to the Adivasis, Dalits, the Kashmiris and understand their fight for a better life.
So my music bears influences from all that I have experienced in life. It has got to do with concerns of people from the northeast.
Every time I perform, people ask me why I write music that is so politically driven, but they need to know how we suffer.
Irom Sharmila has been fasting for over 11 years to demand the same issue? What is your opinion about her fight?
We have never met her. But I would love to meet her. Last November we recorded a song for her. We wanted to perform in front of her, but we were not allowed to get inside the hospital where she’s admitted.
How do you manage to centre your lyrics around issues?
I write poetry and it is my poems that I give tune to. If it hadn’t been for Delhi, I would have never known what a free life is. I would have never known what it is like to live a safe life.
Even among my friends, we talk about such issues. I discuss these with other students as well to understand the issue better.
When I go home, people ask me not to be so political or I would be killed like others who spoke out against the authorities. But I consider myself lucky that I am in Delhi, else I’d never be able to make such music.
How did your first album ‘Tiddim Road’ take shape and why was it called so?
As I said, it was recorded with the money I got from my scholarship in Ph.D.
Tiddim road is a road that leads Imphal to Burma. This is a beautiful road with picturesque view. There are beautiful structures, on one side of the road.
It is also the road where innocent civilians were killed by the armed forces. The road has seen a lot of good scenes and has witnessed the bad times too.
It also leads to Moirang, a place, which is a centre for culture and traditions for Manipuris. So the title song is about a boy who travels to Moriang via the Tiddim road. On his way, he is excited about going to Moirang, but when he reaches there, he is disappointed after her sees the place being occupied by the army.
What do you have to say about the anti-corruption stir? Do you plan to perform at any such protest?
My music deals with human lives. I can only think about such issues once I have a secured life.
I consider myself a victim of this country. Every single day, people in Manipur live their lives in the fear of being shot any moment. When they step out of their homes, they don’t know if they will ever return alive! I want to be free from the thoughts of bullets, bombs, threats, from the army. Only when I lead a safe life can I think about other issues concerning the country.
So I don’t care much about the anti-corruption movement!
How wide do you think your songs reach to reflect the situation in the northeast?
I don’t know what kind of reach my songs have. I’m just a person who writes songs. I do not know how to market my music. People know me well because I have been writing and performing these songs since almost three years now.
I write a lot of poems in Manipuri and English. That is my way of expressing myself. But I don’t know how much people know of it.
What kind of response have you seen from people?
I have seen a very positive response. People encourage me and tell me how these issues need to be promoted.
Our country is influenced by a rock music generation. We witness performances that are based on rock. There are no bands that create music on political issues. Even if there are any, they are not very popular.
Still, there is some encourage from individuals. I go for protests organised by Binayak Sen, the Bhopal gas tragedy victims, etc and I see a very positive response.
Tehelka had featured my music in one of their videos.
One summer, I was performing in Delhi University and Rahul Ram from Indian Ocean came to me and asked me if I had recorded any of my songs. When I said no, he took me to his studio and helped me record two songs.
The AFSPA issue in J&K has gained a lot of opposition, but no light has been paid on the same in the northeast.
In Kashmir, the issue is being talked about because their Chief Minister is concerned about helping his people. But the Manipur government or CM is not interested in bringing this issue to the fore.
I don’t know how, but I believe the government of Manipur is making money out of this.
Dr Thingnam Kishan paid with his life fighting for the rights of people. How do you see the situation improving?
Dr Kishan was one of the few people who stood for truth and rights of people even though he was public servant. His killing shows how one can never stand against any atrocities by the government or army. He inspired his students to stand against what is wrong.
People in Manipur get killed for writing anything against the government. We are attacked by the state and non-state actors and also by the police. You can’t spend a single day without living in the fear of being dead any moment. You have to act very diplomatic.