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Richard Loitam; Another Death That Shook The Nation

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By Anannya Roy Chowdhury:

Richard Loitam, a 19 year old who just started living the so called ‘those were the best days of my life’, suddenly lost it all!! No, I am not referring to a lost cricket match or a broken heart but to the string that keeps us going, our life!

"My name is Richard, and I am innocent" reads Richard Loitam's Facebook profile

With the nation buzzing in all sorts of media happenings, from price hike to the release of some political prisoner, the Garden city of India turned out to be the venue for this draconian act. The high profile, Acharya Institute of Technology like many others across the nation is at the receiving end today because of the sudden and totally unexplained (the politically correct term used by diplomats) death of a First Year Architecture student, Richard Loitam.

Before I set out to paint a somewhat clearer picture of the incidence, for I believe what is being told and heard is just muffled truths, it is important to know in plain light what transpired on that fateful day that snatched from Richard his RIGHT TO LIVE.

April 18th- April 16th: A rather painful flashback!

April 18th: Richard’s parents in Uripok Yambem Leikai, Manipur get to know that their son, whom they loved more than anything in this world, is no more. With more apprehensions about the cause than any outburst of emotions, when they fly to Bangalore, they are welcomed with mouths that are shut and eyes that refuse any explanations whatsoever!

April 17th: Two hostel inmates allegedly beat Richard up with a blunt object so mercilessly that all Richard utters is a meek, “Bhaiya mat maaro” (please don’t hit me!). This cruel act started from the silliest of silly reasons that one can imagine on the block and in this case, a mere change of the T.V channel during an IPL match, ignited the fire that burnt Richard and with him, the trust from humanity down!

April 16th: According to the hostel warden Mr. S Sudhakar, today, Richard met with an accident that called for his treatment in the Saptagiri Hospital.

Although the last date in the list might not find apt relevance in the immediate context, in the later part when I bring to light the highly misread and contradicting comments made by the college authorities and the police, this comment made by the warden in his FIR report would fit perfectly.

Like many other similar student assault cases in India and the world alike, and if we take students from the North Eastern part of the country in particular, this was no exception. Some points that remained glued were the immediate masking of the cause and shameless efforts to put the deceased at fault. Not only was this a clear case of mindless assault made to look like an accident but it was also commented that Richard was a drug addict and it were doses of fatal drugs that lead on to this instance. Now, is it not yet another slap on the face of the thousands of North-east Indians who for no reason become the object of disgust? It is a base expression fuelled by crude stereotypical thoughts that paint a picture of them as drugsters. Just as not all Mohammad followers are also Laden’s acolytes, it is high time that the so-called grown-ups know that just because they have a different tongue, like base metal and are way more literate (if not educated) than the entire country put together, should they be subjected to such treachery within their own motherland.

Richard was a fun loving person, full of life and made it a point to share smiles wherever he went. His Facebook profile, says if not much but atleast the bare minimum to assert all allegations wrong.

His uncle, Sorensangbam who was present in the city to take back home the mangled body of his nephew expressed his concern, “My belief is that the college authorities and the police are trying to cover up the case by defaming my nephew as a drug addict.”

Similar remarks were made by Monika Khangembam, a top dog of the social campaigns seeking JUSTICE FOR RICHARD LOITAM, who shared the same city. She said that the attempts to make up for the college and the guilty were totally baseless, “He was never into drugs, but was in fact an active sportsperson.”

Vishal Banerjee and Syed Afzal Ali, the two hostel inmates and seniors in the college who according to witness reports were responsible for this cursed act are now suspended without any police arrests, which for that simple matter, is not enough.

A look into the contradicting aspects of the plot:

How can anyone who lives in this country and has had an idea about how legal proceedings work, be unsure about the fact that getting justice in India is way more complicated than accepting death? Witness protection is something that is present only in the books with no practical implication of it in any form whatsoever.

The first and most prominent of the chain of events that ink link to the fact that something is certainly fishy in all of this is a statement that came up recently in context to the two students who were the prime witnesses. Now when media pressure clouded in, the two witnesses were all of a sudden present in Bangkok for a mid-term fun trip! Although I make no personal remarks here but is it not strange in the basest of manners that Architecture students in the middle of their semesters plan to move out of the country when just 12 days ago they were apparently seeing a fellow mate being beaten to death? This is also precisely what people had to say as they demanded that it was high time that the CBI took steps in the case.

Another misleading comment, as already mentioned a while back, was that of the hostel warden, Sudhakar about the cause of death being the accident that Loitam had on the 16th. Not only was that a minor accident, with just a few bruises due to a fall from a moped, the date of this was also wrong (15th April and not 16th), as remarked by the parents.

With the Loitam death/homicide case turning into big national news, there are enough sources to get more updates on the issue. My point in telling this is not brewing up any legal proceedings but making a simple plea. Even now while I write this there are thousands all across the nation strewn in Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Imphal, Hyderabad and spread over all nooks and crannies in the world called Social Media where enraged youngsters unite to protest. 12 days down the lane, the social campaign that started to safeguard this phenomenon called JUSTICE has now gathered full force. With over 10 million people becoming affiliates it is no surprise that the entire nation, atleast the ones with a heart of flesh and not ice, are restless. There are very few instances where the religion called INDIANISM comes up better than these unfortunate ones and with his bespectacled face and a smile that was worth a thousand words, Richard screams out aloud these words by Martin Luther King Jr.; “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the APPALLING SILENCE of the “good” people.”

With online media shaping up the case in the direction required to speed things up, a little help from all of us is sure to go miles. Researching on the topic, I stumbled across an online petition request that is aimed to fetch timely justice for Richard. It is high time bullying and student suicides came to an end.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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