Indian football team’s defensive midfielder Jeakson Singh has created a controversy by wrapping himself in a Meitei flag while collecting his medal after India beat Kuwait in the final of the SAFF Championship at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.
He wrapped himself in the flag called ‘Flag of Kangleipak or Salai Taret Flag’, a rectangular seven-colour flag – representing the seven clans of the majority Meiteis in ancient Manipur., while collecting the medal after the match on Tuesday night.
Jeakson Singh, who hails from Manipur’s Thoubal district and belongs to the Meitei community, created a widespread row in various circles with netizens putting up photographs of Salai Taret flag being hoisted after destroying churches in Manipur during the ethnic violence.
He took to Twitter late in the night to defend himself.
“I hope that peace returns to my home state of Manipur. Thank you to the fans for coming out and supporting the team tonight !
“Dear Fans, By celebrating in the flag, I did not want to hurt the sentiments of anyone. I intended to bring notice to the issues that my home state, Manipur, is facing currently. This win tonight is dedicated to all the Indians.
“Last night’s victory was a collective effort of the team and our passionate supporters! Let’s try to repeat this on Tuesday!” Jeakson tweeted.
Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, while talking to the media, said that using individual or state or an organisation’s flags in an international event is not wise.
Team spirit and organiser’s rules must be followed, he remarked.
According to the experts, FIFA rules barred the use of any political, religious, or personal slogan, statements or images on team equipment.
However, renowned Manipur writer Iboyaima Laithangbam said that using the flag, Jeakson Singh did no fault as many players of different streams in numerous platforms earlier on many occasions used it.
“The flag reflects the history and rich culture of Manipur. It is not a political flag or against any community,” Laithangbam told IANS.
For over two months, Manipur witnessed a devastating ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities, leaving over 150 people dead, over 500 civilians of different communities injured, and a large number of properties, including houses, shops, and vehicles destroyed.
Over 50,000 people of different communities took shelter in over 350 relief camps across the state after the ethnic violence broke out on May 3. Over 14, 000 displaced people took shelter in neighbouring Mizoram, Assam, and Nagaland. Like the Kuki community, the Meitei community has been demanding its inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list leading to the ethnic violence following the Manipur High Court’s recommendation to the state government to take up the Meitei community’s issue with the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry.
The Kuki tribal communities have protested the Meitei demand after the High Court’s order.
Due to the violence, Jeakson Singh’s family also took shelter in a relief camp.