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Bodies of Churachandpur ‘Martyrs’, Kept in Morgue Since September 2015, Will Finally Be Buried

The decision comes after the Manipur government and protesters signed a memorandum of understanding on May 10.

Symbolic coffins right next to the morgue where the bodies have been placed in cold storage. Churachandpur, August 31, 2015. Credit: Akhil Mukar

New Delhi: Over one-and-a-half years after their deaths, the bodies of eight of the nine people allegedly killed in police firing and kept in the morgue of the district hospital in Manipur’s Churachandpur town will be laid to rest “on or before May 25”

The decision is a part of the nine-point memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on May 10 between the state government and the Joint Action Committee against Anti Tribal Bills (JACAATB) that has been spearheading an agitation against the three controversial bills passed by the earlier government in the state assembly on August 31, 2015.

Following the passage of three Bills – Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th amendment) Bill, 2015, and Manipur Shops and Establishments (2nd amendment) Bill, 2015 – by the Okram Ibobi Singh government on August 31, 2015, violence erupted in Churachandpur, situated about 60 kms from the state capital, Imphal. Protestors termed the bills “anti tribal” and “a covert attempt” by the majority Meitei community to grab their land. It led to the deaths of nine young people, allegedly due to police firing. One of those killed in the violence, 11-year-old Khaizamang, was buried by his family in December 2016, but against the wishes of the JACAATB. Thereafter, the state government gave his mother Rs 5 lakh as compensation, another Rs 1 lakh for his funeral and a government job to his eldest brother.

After two unsuccessful rounds of talk with the present N. Biren Singh government, the JACAATB signed an MoU on past May 10 as per which it “agreed to perform (an) honourable burial of eight dead bodies by the JACAATB on or before May 25, 2017”.

As per the MoU, signed by Nabakishire Singh’s chief secretary on behalf of the state government, and A. N. Jha, the under-secretary at the ministry of home affairs who was representing the central government, “the state will (also) ensure proper investigation on the incident of police firing and subsequent death of civilians and take up action as per law”.

The MoU said, “The Ministry of Home Affairs, May 11, 2016, conveyed to the state government that the President of India withheld the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015. The other two bills are pending with the government of India and any further course of action will be in consultation with the stakeholders. In future, any new bill which affects the interests of the indigenous tribal people, the state government will follow due procedure as laid down in the Constitution of India and relevant rules in consultation with all stakeholders.”

Women pay respect to the deceased, Churachandpur, August 31, 2016. Credit: Akhil Kumar

The state government will also provide an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh and “permanent employment to the next of kin of the (8) dead persons on or before May 25, 2017.” It would provide employment to eight persons rendered disabled in the violence along with a monetary compensation of Rs 2 lakhs each by May 25, besides releasing compensation of Rs 50,000 to each of the injured (there are 48 of them).

JACAATB members said the BJP-led coalition government has also acknowledged their demand for the creation of a new district (to be named Lamka) sliced out of Churachandpur district, for administrative convenience and better delivery of services to the people of the area. They said, “According to the MoU, the matter will be considered by the state cabinet on submission of a report by the District Boundary Commission.” The earlier state government also bifurcated a part of the Churachandpur district – considered the largest district in terms of area – to form the Pherzawl district.

The members said the state government will also provide financial assistance to establish a park in memory of those killed at Lamka in addition to building a memorial hall in Singhat area of Churachandpur district.

As per the MoU, the state government will also extend “all possible help and cooperation” in the ongoing tripartite talks between the central and state governments and the armed groups under suspension of operation (SOO) “where various other issues and interests of indigenous tribal people of Manipur will be protected.”

Since June 2016, the armed umbrella groups of the Kuki Nationalist Organisation and United People’s Front – under SOO since – have been engaged with the Narendra Modi government to help get “more political rights” for the people of the region. Both the groups have jointly submitted a charter of demands to the central government, seeking a hill state within the state of Manipur.