Photo: Indian midfielder from Manipur wrapped himself in Meitei flag
Aizawl: Despite the All India Football Federation (AIFF) deciding “not to take forward” the case of Manpuri footballer Jeakson Singh, who faced significant backlash for wrapping a Meitei flag after the SAFF Championship Final on Tuesday (July 4), a fervent football enthusiast and executive member of the Mizoram Football Association (MFA) has firmly called for disciplinary measures against the midfielder.
The footballer’s move has sparked off widespread criticisms on the internet, especially from the Kuki-Zo tribal communities in Manipur who alleged ethnic cleansing from the majority Meitei community to which Jeakson belongs.
Some netizens called him “unprofessional” and “secessionist”.
“What is Jeakson Singh doing with a secessionist flag. Doesn’t he know that this is not a state/regional level competition rather a prestigious International Tournament where he is representing his Nation India. Take action @IndianFootball,” said a Twitter user.
The ripples were also felt in Mizoram, prompting MFA executive member Joseph Lalrintluanga to write to the AIFF demanding strict action against the 22-year-old midfielder who hails from Thoubal district of violence-torn Manipur.
Joseph, in his letter, called for Jeakson Singh to be barred from national team duty and condemned the AIFF’s failure to take action on the matter.
Joseph claimed that numerous tribes in the northern states and around the world were highly offended by his conduct, mostly because the flag represents solidarity among the majority of Manipur’s Meitei clans.
“The cruelty of what the people did while operating under the same flag that Jeakson Singh demonstrated during the medal ceremony is beyond words,” Joseph wrote.
According to Joseph, the flag is primarily associated with Meitei radicalised groups and has been seen being raised on burned churches in Manipur.
“His motive was clear by wrapping the flag at the ceremony,” Joseph said in the letter.
The AIFF statement not to pursue the matter came after Jeakson made clarifications about his gesture.
Singh clarified that his intention was to draw attention to the plight of Manipur and advocate for peace to be restored.
“He later apologised and stated that his intention was to advance peace after receiving so much negative feedback on social media. If his goal was to foster peace and harmony, he could have done in a more respectable way that wouldn’t have offended other communities,” Joseph said in the letter.
Sportspersons have frequently attempted to promote their propaganda to a bigger audience during a live television broadcast and many athletes have been reprimanded for their actions on countless occasions.
Joseph mentioned Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola having been fined by the Football Association (FA) and warned over his future conduct after wearing a yellow ribbon supporting political prisoners in his native Catalonia.
“Likewise, it is also obvious that Jeakson Singh attempted to utilise the Meitei flag to further Meitei propaganda, which is offensive to the thousands of tribal people that live across the globe,” Joseph argued.
Joseph informed the AIFF that India Under 17 team forward Thanglalsoun Gangte was among the thousands of victims of ethnic violence in Manipur with his uncle having been killed and his home burned down, while he was away in Europe playing for India.
“Thanglalsoun, like many other displaced persons, has nowhere to go home and is seeking refuge in Mizoram,” he pointed out.
Jeakson Singh’s actions cannot be justified, Joseph argued and implored the AIFF to “bar Jeakson Singh from performing his national duty because sports should foster peace rather than hostility.”
However, Jeakson was not alone in his gesture. The Meitei flag also appeared beside an Indian flag hanging in the crowd.
Following the ethnic violence that broke out from May 3, 2023, numerous viral videos have surfaced, depicting radicalised groups such as Arambai Tengol and Meitei Leepun, proudly waving the Kangleipak flag.
One particular video showcased an Indian merchant navy officer waving the multi-colored flag on an Indian naval ship.
This according to Kuki-Zo tribals in Manipur, indicates a growing sentiment of secessionism within the Meitei community.
Manipur-based Indigenious Tribal Leaders’ Forum media cell convenor Ginza Vualzawng said, “What Jeakson did was a display of Meitei hegemony over the tribals in Manipur and disregard to the Indian National flag. He being a sports person should rather be an ambassador of communal harmony.”