Saikul (Manipur): We come from H. Khopibung village in Saikul sub-division of Manipur’s Kangpokpi, a hill district. Saikul is the headquarters of Sadar Hills Autonomous District Council. Our district council is among six such councils set up by New Delhi when Manipur was granted status of a full-fledged state in 1971. The move was to safeguard the hill areas and its residents, the hill tribes, under Article 371C of the Constitution.
However, since 1971, we have not seen much development in our areas, which over the decades, have pushed our younger generation to venture out, even to faraway mainstream cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, to look for decent employment.
Our daughters also ventured out of Saikul for a job. While one was 21 years old, the other was 24. One of them went to work in the state capital Imphal a year ago, the other followed about two months ago. In fact, both worked at the same workplace – Gama Car Wash, owned by an Imphal-based man from the majority Meitei community, Samorjit Ningthouja. While one of them washed cars, the other manned the counter. Things were fine.
We were happy too as their fathers; also because they could come home sooner than those who had to venture out of the state for work. Though hills have been our home, there are many from our Kuki tribe living in Imphal for work; so many from our tribe have settled down in the capital city too. After all, it is their capital also. A reason for wanting to have a house in Imphal is also because there is not much development in our areas; the airport is in Imphal; all good hospitals are there; most jobs are there.
Though from time to time, there has been friction between the Meiteis and our Kuki-Zo tribe, but no one imagined it would take such a turn that people would be baying for each other’s blood on community lines. We never thought there would be so much hatred towards each other that all levels of humanity will be crossed. From May 3 onwards, things took an ugly turn between the two communities like never before.
Our nightmare began on May 5, when one of the mothers of the girls received a call from her phone at around 5 pm that day. On the other end of her phone was a woman, screaming, and asking in Manipuri, ‘Do you want your daughter alive or dead?’ Before her mother could react, the woman cut the phone. We dialled and dialled our daughter’s number thereafter but it went unanswered and soon went dead.
It was nearly night time and we didn’t know what to do. We waited in trepidation and got to know next morning from two co-workers belonging to the Naga community that they were both killed at their workplace by a mob the previous evening itself. The mob included women too.
According to the co-workers, the owner was not present at that time. The mob gagged them first and then dragged them to a room. Seven-eight people from the mob including women entered the room and locked it. They were inside the room for some time which has made us suspect that our daughters might have been sexually abused too, though we can’t say it for sure yet. They were killed by the mob inside that room. One of the co-workers made a video of the mob attack at the car wash; we have a copy of it.
After the news of their death reached us, we tried contacting the owner but he would not pick up our phone. It was his responsibility to protect his workers no matter which community they belonged to. He didn’t, forcing us to ask, was he involved in it too? Only a proper investigation of the matter will bring things to light.
Based on what evidence we have, both of us have filed an FIR each at the Saikul police station. The FIR numbers of our complaints are Zero (65) (5) 2023 SKL-PS, U/s 326/354/366/375/302/34of the Indian Penal Code.
We are yet to hear from the police, though. Kuki Inpe, the apex body of our tribe, and Kuki Nationalist Organisation (KNO) which is negotiating the peace talks of our community with the Union government for some years now, helped us file the FIRs. We hope they will follow it up in earnest so that our daughters get justice.
However, we have an immediate issue at hand. Since May 5 night, the bodies of our daughters have been lying at the morgue of the government-run Jawaharlal Institute of Medical Sciences at Imphal. With the violence continuing in areas that are on the way to Imphal from our district, we are scared to venture out. We know of no Kuki person residing in Imphal at the moment. We, therefore, request the state authorities through this article of ours in The Wire to hand us over the bodies of our daughters and allow us to see them one last time.
It is not easy for parents to mourn the loss of their children but if we get their bodies, we can breathe with some relief that we have succeeded in giving them a decent burial at the least. The fight to get them justice will continue.
(As told to Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty. The Wire has withheld the names of the victims since the sections under which the complaints were filed at the police station are of alleged sexual assault. The names of their fathers have been published here on the insistence of the families.)