'We Lived There for 30 Years But Can't Go Back Now': Accounts of Loss From a Land of Zero FIRs

Kuki brothers Thangkholal and Hemang's Meitei landlord had stopped charging them rent when he learnt their father had died. But that didn't stop an allegedly Meitei mob from attacking them and killing three members of their family on May 4.

Saikul (Manipur): During the night time, when many residents of Manipur stay up and guard their villages, this reporter reached the small down of Saikul in the hills. 

It is located 28 kilometres from Kangpokpi and 35 kilometres from Imphal. Its population is around 70,000. The town has only two doctors in the community health centre. Earlier, they had four. Two of them were Meiteis and had to leave Saikul since ethnic violence broke out in early May.

Near the mountain in the town, in a small house, a Kuki family waits for justice. Thangkholal and Hemang heard about the killing of their mother and sisters while they were in Imphal. The two used to live with their 86-year-old mother Veinem Chongloi and their two sisters, Helma (50) and Hekim (47), in Takhellambam Leikai, located in Imphal West. Their house was a rented one and one in which they had lived for almost 30 years till May 4. 

On May 3, ethnic violence began in Manipur, leading to widespread arson. More than 142 people died in it, as is well known now. Veinem, along with her two daughters, was killed on the morning of May 4 by a mob. Locals say it was the Arambai Tenggol.

On May 4, Thangkholal and Hemang ran from their home with no money in hand, wearing only a single set of clothes. They reached Saikul where their third sister and only surviving family member lives. 

The brothers’ father had worked at the Assam Rifles. Their landlord, a Meitei community member, had not been charging them rent for the past five years – ever since the father died. The family discussed the violence with their landlord on May 3 as well but never imagined that their lives would change in a day.

“On May 4, at 11 am, we received a call from our local MLA, who is Meitei, telling us not to go out and to lock the doors from inside. Later, Meira Paibis [woman vigilantes belonging to the Meitei community] came to our house and asked us to open our door. We told them about the situation and the MLA’s call. They asked us to call the MLA again. But the MLA didn’t pick up the call, and then, I believe, the Meira Paibis summoned the mob,” Thangkholal told The Wire.

Veinem’s eyes were bad, so the sisters advised the brothers to run, saying that they would hold fort with their mother. “Our sisters thought the mob would not attack them as they were all women. As we ran, we heard our sisters’ screams and then the declaration, ‘We have killed all three’,” Hemand said.

Photos of the two sisters accessed by The Wire showed that their faces could have been maimed with sharp weapons. The brothers said they do not know what has happened to their mother.

Thangkholal and Hemang first ran from the area to the house of their Meitei friend, who allowed them to stay for some time. But the mob found them there too, they said. They sought shelter in another Meitei friend’s house, only to be followed there by the mob again. The third location they reached was Lamphel Baptist Church, but after spending some time there, they heard that churches were also being burnt, so they left the place and took shelter at yet another Meitei friend’s house. Then, the Imphal West superintendent of police came to their rescue and took them to the Manipur Rifles Battalion.

“On May 5, I called my landlord and asked him to check if my mother and sisters are still alive. The landlord replied, ‘Do you know that a Meitei lady was killed in Churachandpur?’ What could we say to him after that?” Hemang asked.

The brothers spent seven days at the Manipur Rifles camp, and then, soldiers of the Assam Rifles dropped them off at Kangpokpi, from where they reached Saikul.

Men rest at Saikul. Photo: Yaqut Ali

Area politics

The area where the family used to live was a Meitei-dominated area, and they were the lone Kuki family living there for years. Yumnam Joykumar Singh, who was the deputy chief minister of Manipur and who also retired as Manipur’s director general of police, lives in the same area where the crime happened.

The brothers filed an FIR on May 17, 2023, at 9 am, just after reaching Saikul. It was a zero FIR, filed at Saikul.

It states: “Veenem Chongloi, Helam Chongloi, and Hekim Chongloi were murdered using sharp objects and firearms. The case was filed under 302/34 IPC.”

In the complaint filed by Hemang, he named “unknown miscreants” who are suspected to belong Meitei youth organisations like the “Meetei Leepun, Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL), Arambai Tenggol, World Meitei Council (WMC), and Schedule Tribe Demand Committee (STDC).”

The complaint said they numbered between 100 and 200.

In addition to the three murders, the brothers’ complaint said, “They also looted all the household properties, including jewellery, furniture, electronic items, ornaments, utensils, important documents, clothes, food, and grains worth about Rs. 10-15 lakhs.”

The Wire visited the family’s house in Uripok Takhellambam Leikai, Imphal, but women who identified themselves as Meira Paibis in the area did not let this reporter ask neighbours about the family. The family’s case is now being handled by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The bodies of the three women are at Imphal’s RIIMS Hospital.

A total of 217 FIRs were registered at the Saikul police station. All have been sent to police stations in Imphal. Goupu, a leader of the Kuki Students Organisation, said, “You already know that Manipur government itself is the main culprit.”

Goupu cited how the DGP P. Doungel who belonged to the Kuki community and was transferred as Officer on Special Duty (Home) in June, and replaced by Rajiv Singh.

Another FIR at Saikul notes how two Kuki men, Letgunchon Touthang (18) and Thangmilen Vaiphei (32), who used to work in a furniture store in Imphal East, were brutally killed with firearms and other deadly weapons on the night of May 4. The FIR notes that members of the same organisations are accused in this case too.

The Wire spoke with an eyewitness of the murder, Shiv Prasad, a 36-year-old from Uttar Pradesh who captured the murder of the two on camera. “On that day, people were checking our ID cards. We were eight people, three Kuki, and two of us from Uttar Pradesh. They killed all three upon getting to know they were Kuki,” he said.