TH Brajabhushan Singh thought his teenaged son was old enough to go to school on his own. But a growing list of unescorted children vanishing from his native town in Manipur made him change his mind.
Since May this year, at least 45 children have disappeared from the four Valley districts of Manipur — Imphal East, Imphal West, Bishenpur and Thoubal. They have presumably been picked up by militants in desperate need to check manpower depletion.
“Had the half-yearly exams not been on, I would have preferred to keep my son indoors,” said Singh, a resident of Thoubal district where a village named Santhel has borne the brunt of abductions. Parents forcing their children to play truant is something school authorities foresee if the government fails to prevent militants from “catching them young” and brainwashing them with their separatist agenda.
School attendance had dropped sharply prior to the exams, said a spokesperson of the All Manipur Secondary School Teachers’ Association.
Of some 17 militant outfits active in Manipur, the needle of suspicion is on both the factions of the outlawed People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak). One of the factions had even paraded six “missing” children, claiming they had joined the outfit voluntarily.
Manipur police chief Y Joykumar Singh admitted many cases of abduction go unreported, as people fear retribution from the miscreants. “We have so far registered 13 cases of missing children,” he said, adding the magnitude of the problem was revealed after four children escaped from the clutches of the militants.
According to the police chief, all the children — both boys and girls — targeted were in the age group of 11-16 years. “The militants are forcibly taking away children of impressionable age as they are finding it hard to attract adults who are no longer buying their idea of revolution,” he said.
Shaken by the “disturbing trend”, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh has appealed to parents and guardians not to let their minor wards out unescorted.