Sunday, March 3, 2024

Manipur: Bodies of 87 Kuki-Zo tribals killed in ethnic violence laid to rest amid tight security

In an emotional bid, families of Manipur’s Kuki Zo Tribal community buried their loved ones at Sehken in Manipur’s Churachandpur district on Wednesday. Bodies of 87 members, which were lying in a Manipur morgue for almost eight months were finally laid to rest by the grieving families.

Amid heavy security and thousands of people as attendees, the burial happened in two phases in two different districts of Manipur. The first burial took place on 15 December that included the bodies of 19 people who were killed in ethnic violence in Manipur which started on 3 May when after the state High Court’s decision to give Schedule Tribe status to the majority Meitei community.

The bodies were airlifted in an Indian Air Force (IAF) chopper from Imphal on 14 December for the last rites and buried in Kangpokpi district.

The 87 dead, all belonging to the Kuki Zo community, were finally being buried after spending close to eight months in morgues. The delay in the burial had heightened tensions in the region, which is already witnessing a sensitive situation.

For Kim Hoakip no words came out as her brother Letminthang Haokip was finally laid to rest after his body was inside the morgue for almost seven months. 

Letminthang Haokip, belonging to the Kuki-Zo community, was a 26-year-old was working as a tax assistant in the income tax department in Manipur’s capital Imphal. The day, violence started in Manipur, he was unable to leave for a safer place 

Kim was, at the time, was working out of Manipur, and was in constant contact with her brother. When Maktoob had spoken to her last, she said that in the last conversation with her brother, he was him asking her to save him.

On 4 May, Letminthang Haokip was killed. He was burnt alive where his charred body has in the morgue since then. Kim said she came to know about his death after a few days, since the body was kept in the morgue and as the violence, at the time was at its peak, could not do anything but wait for the authorities to hand over the body.

Little did she know that it would take her eight months to bury her only family, besides her younger sister. 

Speaking about the burial of people in his community, Mang Hoakip, a resident of Manipur, currently studying in Delhi said that watching the burial is a mixed emotion.

“We are filled with sorrow to see our love ones being maimed and killed. We can’t imagine how many were killed in a gruesome manner as their bodies were not identifiable,” said.

Mang Hoakip further said that burial ceremonies are a very crucial part of Kuki tradition. “Most of us are exalting the fact that we are able to conduct the last rites. That, we can see them one-last-time,” he added.

However, the situation is far from getting normal as the situation once again stands tensed as fresh clashes started on Tuesday with Section 144 being imposed in Churachandpur district for next two months.

Churachandpur, has been the focal point of the ethnic unrest and has been grappling with the aftermath of clashes. There was an atrempt by the Kuki community to organise a mass burial months ago, at the border of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts, predominantly inhabited by the Meitei community. However, this only served to deepen the existing conflict.

Meanwhile, the decision to impose section 144 came in light of an incident of clashes between two warring groups of individuals on December 18 at Thingkangphai village.

Speaking to Maktoob about the burial, Siam Phiapi, a Manipur based lawyer, meanwhile said that he does not see the situation improving.

“It is a feeling which cannot be described. Whether it’s a relief or whether it’s sorrow because justice has not been served yet in anyway,” he said.

Phiapi’s house and a school, built by his late father, were burnt during the violence. 

“I don’t consider handing over dead bodies in 8 months a big move as people cannot venture beyond the boundaries of their places normal in anyway,” he said.

Phiapi had filed a petition after his house and school were burnt down in the Supreme Court. 

“I have also filed a petition and forever list regarding interim compensation so that at least my mother and family can restart their lives,” he said.

But the cases are moving at a slow pace and justice is still far-fetched.

“The government are compensating or at least trying to. But are the lives of human beings just worth some money or compensation? Will that give their souls peace? Will that give their families peace? Or is empathy, accountability of all perpetrators required as well,” he asked.

Phiapi had been fighting for the release of bodies of the dead in court for a while. “The bodies of my petitioners’ family, a mother and son were lying in the morgues. I had even written to the committee regarding identification and returning of the bodies to their loved ones and families, and not just for my petitioner or for just one community,” he said.

The lawyer also said that although the Supreme Court had recorded the order regarding the bodies back in August and the committee had also pointed it out in one of their reports, it was only in December the order was passed.

“I hope that the SC treats every matter as urgent especially with regards to the looting or handing over of arms, compensation, accountability of perpetrators be it state or otherwise which they have recorded in their August judgement as well,” he added.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the grieving families, burying is only a part, the loss of their family members, is going to stay with them forever.

Mang Hoakip added that till the demand by the Kuki Zo for the separate administration is not heard, there is going to be no solution. 

“The demand is crystal clear. Anything less than union territory, I believe would be construed as a treason. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi intent to bring a permanent solution, we only expect declaration of a separate administration as the permanent and only solution,” he said.

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