Dissent

Photo Essay: Eight Bodies Finally Put to Rest in Manipur’s Churachandpur

The eight were killed a year and eight months ago in alleged police firing in the Churachandpur town of Manipur.

Large painted white wooden crosses were placed next to the head of each coffin as volunteers shovelled dirt to finish the burial process. Credit: Vivek Singh

Large painted white wooden crosses were placed next to the head of each coffin as volunteers shovelled dirt to finish the burial process. Credit: Vivek Singh

Churachandpur, Manipur: After nearly one year and eight months, bodies of eight young people, killed in alleged police firing in Churachandpur town of Manipur following a violent protest in 2015, have been laid to rest.

On the evening of September 1, 2015,  a large number of people came on to the Tiddim Road passing through the Churachandpur town, the headquarters of the state’s largest district of Churachandpur, to register protest against the then Okram Ibobi Singh government’s decision to pass three Bills in the state assembly a day before.

The Bills – the Protection of Manipur People’s Bill, 2015, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015, and Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 – were looked at by the people of Churachandpur district, comprising mostly of Paites and Kukis, as “anti-tribal”, as “a conspiracy” by the majority Meitei community to grab tribal land.

Though the land in the (then) six hill districts of the state can’t be owned by the Meiteis, who reside in the (then) four valley districts including in the capital city Imphal, the tribals can do so in the valley districts. It was, therefore, looked at by the people of the hill districts as a “veiled attempt” by the valley dwellers to own their land. Years of imbalanced and non-inclusive development also fuelled the anger against the government.

In the September 1, 2015 violence, protesters torched the houses of local MLAs, including the state health minister’s residence, for not objecting to the Bills. In the alleged police firing following the attack on the houses of the politicians, nine young people were killed, including an 11-year-old boy, Khaizamang.

The people of the town formed a joint action committee (JAC) and refused to bury the dead till the Bills were revoked by the state government. In June 2016, the president rejected two of the Bills and sent back one to the state government for review.

The protest, however, continued. In the run-up to the May assembly elections, however, divisions began to show among the protesters on community lines, leading the Kukis to leave the protest. In December 2016, Khaizamang’s body was” stolen” from the morgue of the district town and buried with the help of the then state government. Besides Khaizamang’s family receiving Rs 6 lakh as compensation, his eldest brother was given a government job.

After the BJP-led coalition government took over the reins of the state, consultations began with the JAC to find a solution that could result in the burial of the bodies. Earlier this month, the JAC signed an agreement with the state government following an assurance to fulfil a list of demands, leading it to announcing that the remaining eight bodies would be buried on May 24.

Here are some images of the burial ceremony in Churachandpur.

A mother mourned as the coffins were taken away to the Lamka Public Ground for the public to pay their last respects to the dead. Credit: Vivek Singh

A mother mourned as the coffins were taken away to the Lamka Public Ground for the public to pay their last respects to the dead. Credit: Vivek Singh

Volunteers carrying the coffins to the trucks from outside the morgue where they were kept for the families of the dead to spend some time with their loved ones. Credit: Vivek Singh

Volunteers carrying the coffins to the trucks from outside the morgue where they were kept for the families of the dead to spend some time with their loved ones. Credit: Vivek Singh

"You've done all that man can do" said this poster's last line as families boarded trucks with coffins to be the first taken to the the Lamka public ground and finally to the burial site on the outskirts of Churachandpur town, next to the Khuga Dam. Credit: Vivek Singh

“You’ve done all that man can do,” said the last line of this poster stuck behind a truck, used to carry the coffins and the families of the dead, first to the Lamka public ground for the people to pay their respect to them, and then to the burial site, situated near the Khuga dam, on the outskirts of Churachandpur town. Credit: Vivek Singh

Volunteers putting their hands together to bring down one of the coffins into the grave. Credit: Vivek Singh

Volunteers putting their hands together to bring down one of the coffins into the grave. Credit: Vivek Singh

Volunteers from Churachandpur seen lowering a coffin into a common grave which volunteers and people from around the town dug the same day. Credit: Vivek Singh

Volunteers from Churachandpur seen lowering a coffin into a common grave which volunteers and people from around the town dug the same day. Credit: Vivek Singh

Last gifts for the departed were lowered into the grave by relatives and family members and kept on their respective coffins. Credit: Vivek Singh

Last gifts for the departed were lowered into the grave by relatives and family members and kept on their respective coffins. Credit: Vivek Singh

Text by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

Vivek Singh is a New Delhi-based photographer and journalist. He works on extended documentary projects.

  • Sanathoibra_Zomi

    rest in peace brave-hearts………….you all will be deeply missed and remembered.

    no more Bills in the future and no more bullets for the Hills….oh! next step is to get justice for the 9 brave hearts