3 mortuaries, 94 bodies and a wait for last rites in Manipur
There are 94 bodies in three mortuaries, two in Imphal and one in Churachandpur, that are yet to be claimed by their families
Violence in this northeastern state roiled by an ethnic conflict since early May has ebbed, but some of the dead continue to pay a price. There are 94 bodies in three mortuaries, two in Imphal and one in Churachandpur, that are yet to be claimed by their families.
One of the 94 is of Lalboi Lhungdim(32), who was beaten to death by a mob in Imphal on May 4. In M Songgel village, about 2 km from Churachandpur market, Ngamthang Lhungdin, is watching the local TCN cable network to track the latest updates related to the bodies .
Desperate to bring his son home, one final time, Ngamthang was tracking the news on Wednesday in the backdrop of Supreme Court’s latest directives in the matter.
On November 28, the Supreme Court issued directives for the burial or cremation of all those killed in the ethnic violence in the state, including 88 that have been identified, but not claimed by their next of kin, by December 11. Either the relatives of the deceased can accept the bodies and perform their last rites at any of the nine burial sites identified by the Manipur government, or the state can go ahead and do the same in accordance with the municipal law, the court ordered.
There are 54 bodies at two mortuaries in Imphal and 40 at the Churachandpur mortuary. Four bodies in Churachandpur are of Meities. Most Meitei families have already claimed the bodies of their kin.The 54 bodies from Imphal could not be brought out and handed to their Kuki families because of security reasons. The bodies have to be transported via different Meitei majority areas on NH2 to reach Churachandpur. The Kuki bodies in Churachandpur, a Kuki area, pose no problem -- but the tribal body representing Kukis wants those bodies to stay in the mortuary in Churachandpur till the bodies of Kukis from Imphal can be brought there for a mass burial. And the state seems reluctant to do so.
HT reached out to state health minister Sapam Ranjan Singh over phone calls and text messages but did not get a response immediately.
On August 3, the Indigenous Tribal Leader’s Forum(ITFL), an influential Churachandpur based tribal body, announced a mass burial for all Kukis at a disputed site. The state government rejected the site and the very idea of a mass burial. Despite meetings with Centre, there was no headway until Tuesday when the SC said it would not leave the “pot boiling.” The apex court directed relatives to accept bodies and bury them at the nine identified sites; it said the state could go ahead and do the same if the bodies remained unclaimed for over one weeks.
The families have to decide by December 11.
“ ITLF is handling the case for Kukis and we trust them. But ITLF and the government must sit down and decide fast. I want to bring my son’s body home for just a few hours and lay him to rest after that. Just five days before he was murdered, he had become a father. I have accepted our fate. I also accept any site for burial as long as it is in a hill district and not in the valley(Imphal),” Ngamthang said.
Lhungdim is not alone. Across the hill districts, there are many families awaiting the ITLF and the state government to come to a consensus and settle the matter amicably.
Around 5 km from Churachandpur market, within the premises of the Evalengical Churches Association(ECA) church in D Phailan village, is a relief camp.
Janghem Toiuthang(76) and his wife Mangling(75) are among the oldest people in the camp -- and they too, are hoping that the ITLF and the state government will come up with a solution. The body of their son, Jangpao Toiuthang, who was shot dead on June 9, has been lying at the Churachandpur hospital. ITLF planned to bring all bodies, including ones from Imphal, and then hold a funeral.
“We heard from the people in the relief camp about the latest court order. We trust the ITLF but they have to settle the matter soon. We want our son home now. We should not disrespect the dead like this. But we will not let the state government bury Kukis in Imphal,” Mangling said.
The ethnic clashes between Kukis and Meiteis have divided them geographically. Kukis live in hill districts such as Churachandpur while Meiteis reside in Imphal and other valley areas. The area between them is guarded by security forces.
ITLF spokesperson, Ginza Vualzong, said, “The state government is not ready to hand over the bodies citing various issues. Few weeks ago, senior home ministry officials came to Lamka(Churachandpur) to discuss the burial but no consensus could be reached.”
Officials aware of matter said the Intelligence Bureau(IB) has been holding regular meetings for a peaceful resolution on burying of bodies.
Top security officials on the ground said that it would be a logistical challenge to transport bodies from Imphal to Churachandpur.
“Either the bodies will have to be airlifted and brought to Churachandpur or the forces will have to sanitise the entire 60-65 km route between Imphal and Churachandpur. All agencies have to ensure that no person tries to fuel tension when it is passing along Meitei areas. On seeing so many coffins of ethnic clash victims, there will be tension,” one officer added on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, when this reporter visited the Churachandpur district hospital, armed CRPF personnel were guarding the mortuary. No outsider was allowed near it.
The officer cited above also said it wasn’t clear if Meitei groups in Imphal would allow the bodies to be brought out of the mortuary. On multiple occasions since June, Imphal residents have gathered outside mortuaries seeking to prevent the government from handing the bodies of the Kukis.
Manipur has been witnessing ethnic clashes between Meiteis, based primarily in Imphal Valley, and tribal Kukis, who are in majority in nearby hill districts, since May 3. The violence has killed at least 181 and displaced 50,000.
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