Tuesday, March 5, 2024

“Give us her body so we can bury her,” says family of Kuki woman killed 

Kim’s village where she grew up. Photo: Nikita Jain/Maktoob

In Manipur, as the violence continues with regular firing taking place between the dominated Meitei community and the Kuki-Zo tribals, others are still reeling with the loss of their loved ones. In Lhanghoi, a small quaint village located amidst the lush green mountains of Sadar Hills in Manipur, a family sits demanding to at least get the body of their loved one so that they can bury her. 

Nemvah, 45, has tears in her eyes as she alleged that her sister-in-law Kim (name changed due to safety concerns) was allegedly raped and killed in July 2023.

“When I spoke to her husband Keneddy he told me that the state commandos had dragged her out of the relief camp they were staying at and taken her to paddy fields after which her naked dead body was found by the Assam Rifles the next day,” Nemvah told Maktoob as she tried to control her tears. 

Manipur has been witnessing non-stop violence, which started on May 3 after a rally held by the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur — which opposed the Manipur High Court’s recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to Meiteis, the state’s dominant ethnic group. On unconfirmed reports that the peaceful rally had gone violent, violence started taking place in Imphal with people belonging to Kuki-Zo community being hunted down, killed and their houses being burnt down. In the hills, which had a small Meitei population, had run away as well as their houses were also burnt down as news of violence in Imphal spread.

Slowly, reports of violence from district districts emerged. According to the victim’s family, Kim who is a Kuki was married to Kennedy, a Meitei business man. The family lived in Sugnu, a small town at the southern tip of the Kakching district in Manipur. 

Nemvah said that she was in constant touch with her sister-in-law and also insisted that she come down here as the situation is unsafe. “Kim told me that the village leaders in Sugnu had a meeting and decided that no community will harm the other community, hence everything was normal here,” she said.

While both the Meitei and a sizeable Kuki lived in Sugnu, the village did not see any violence, until it did reach them. Late May, over 200 houses were set on fire, by suspected militants. To save their lives all the people left their village and ran towards camps set up by the Indian Army for displaced people.

Kim and Kennedy’s house was also burnt in the violence, Nemvah said. 

The family, including their 4-year-old son were displaced and forced to go to an Assam Rifle camp. Nemvah said that according to Kim and Kennedy, it was a mixed population, but the army officials were separating Meitei from Kuki so there is no confrontation.

But as there were more couples who were married in other community, they chose to stay together. Kim too decided to stay with her husband.

After a few days, the couple then moved to another relief camp in Kumbi located near Wangoo. “I was on call with Kennedy early June when I heard some commotion behind. He said that some Meitei people were creating issues and had to cut the call,” Nemvah said.

When she tried to call him again, Nemvah could not get through. The next morning Kennedy called Nemvah and her brother informing that Kim was killed last night.

“He said that the commandos had come, dragged her out into the paddy fields are killed her,” Nemvah said with tears. Although there is no official designation, commandos are a part of Manipur Police, however there is not much information about their roles.

On asking again whether it was the commandos, Nemvah averred that Kennedy kept repeating that it was indeed them. “There was a lot of confusion regarding the body as well because Kennedy was told that Kim’s body was taken to Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal but as they had no money to travel, he could not go see the body for a few days,” she said.

Although, the officials claimed that her body was in JIMS, Nemvah said that they still have no whereabouts of what happened with Kim’s body. On asking about rape allegations, Nemvah said that one of the neighbours of Kim who was a Meitei and in the same camp, contacted them revealing that her naked body was found by Assam Rifles.

However, due to the absence of the body, all of the information is heresay and the family is still clueless. “Kennedy also confirmed that Kim was raped before she was killed and the money looted. The husband had no idea what to do and as there was no money he could not go,” she said.

In July, Nemvah and her family lost contact with Kennedy and her son. “He last told us that he is going to live with his cousin in a different location and will stop using this phone. If he talks to us then those people there might say that he is a spy and kill them, so we understand his reluctancy in not contacting us,” she said.

Nemvah also spoke to Kim’s four-year-old son who had no idea that his mother was dead. “He kept crying asking for his mother as he was told she was here. He kept saying why have you taken away my mother. I need her, please send here,” she said.

Amidst all this it was revealed that the dead body of Kim was never found. “We still do not know what happened to her body. From what the Meitei neighbour told us her body was probably thrown away near a river after it was discovered by the Assam Rifles, who had gone to inform the officials about a Kuki woman’s dead body,” Nemvah said.

Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the Manipur government to bury the unidentified and unclaimed bodies of individuals killed during the violence in Manipur that has been effectively not in control for over seven months now.

However, for Nemvah and her brother, not knowing about her sister is everyday a torture.

Kim, who lived with Bablu her brother and sister-in-law Nemvah was only 35. With both the parents dead, she fell in love with Kennedy, a Meitei, who was quite older than her. “But he was very gentle and even though he was married before, Kim did not mind and married him,” Nemvah said.

A hard-working, self-reliant woman, Kim started a grocery shop with her husband in Sugma. “She was an entrepreneur and even here kept making small things to sell. After getting married as well she did not stop and started the grocery business, which was doing well,” Nemvah added.

An FIR has been registered in the case, while the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating the case. However, Bablu, who himself was in the Indian Army, said that no progress has taken place ever since. “They did call initially to ask about the family and the FIR, but then nothing ever since,” he told Maktoob.

Hundreds have lost their lives, while thousands are displaced in Manipur. As the tribal community demands a separate administration, one can see the division between the Valley and the Hills in the state. 

The violence in Manipur witnessed many gender-based violence cases, mostly against the Kuki-Zo women. According to Mary Beth, coordinator of Rural Women Upliftment Society in Lamka (Churachandpur), 33 cases were officially recorded by them. “I am sure there are more cases that have gone unnoticed due to the long internet blackout we had,” she said.

Beth said there were more such cases, one being the viral video where two Kuki women were raped and paraded naked by Meitei men who recorded the whole scene.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Biren Singh government has failed to do anything, the tribals have their hopes on the Central government, who has also not done anything major to deescalate the situation. 

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