Jaipur: The Supreme Court has ordered the Manipur government to bury the unidentified and unclaimed bodies of individuals killed during the violence in Manipur which began on May 3.
The sharp divide between the two communities is yet to abate and the state is virtually split, with the Meitei people living in the Imphal Valley, and tribal communities being confined to the hill areas.
According to information provided by the Justice Gita Mittal (retired) committee to the top court, there have been a total of 175 deaths in the state.
Of the total number of deaths reported confirmed, 169 people’s bodies have been identified.
Eighty-one bodies have been claimed by the next of kin, and 88 have been identified by the administration but have not been claimed yet. Six bodies remain unidentified (five in the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences and one in the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences). For these six unidentified bodies, the general secretary of the Kuki Students’ Organisation, D.J. Haokip, underlined the precarious security situation in the state and the divide, making it impossible for them to enter Imphal. He told The Wire, “As I have said what I told you before, we are ready to verify all the bodies with all their relevant documents, but the government has to provide us security to enter Imphal.”
Recently, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed that most of the bodies in morgues in Manipur are of “infiltrators”. His claims were at variance with the facts. Even at the time, The Wire had been able to collect data on the ground to confirm only 19 bodies were unidentified in Manipur. However, a large number of even identified bodies remained in hospital morgues as victims’ families were being unable to travel due to the ongoing violence.
The data submitted to the court by the committee includes bodies of victims from both the Meitei and Kuki communities. Most victims from the Kuki community are in JNIMS and RIMS Hospital in Imphal, while Meitei bodies are in Churachandpur district. This again underscores how the state is divided between the ethnic groups, with no visible effort being made by the state to enable peaceful mobility.
According to a spokesperson of the the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum, Ginza Vualzong, 154 people from the Kuki-Zo community were killed in the Manipur violence. This number includes missing persons too. ITLF data also states that there are 22 people from the community who were killed in the state, but their bodies are yet to be located.
The question arises: how were these bodies identified when Meiteis can’t enter the hills and Kukis can’t enter the valley?
The Wire reached out to one of the kin of the deceased whose body is in the Imphal morgue. Nenghoikim Lhungdim’s eldest brother Jamkholal Lhungdim and her sister-in-law’s brother Ngamkhothang Lhungdim were killed in Imphal. Nenghoikim remembers, “On May 4 morning, all the people in Khongsai Veng were asked to stay together in Lodestar Public School. Later, when members of the Kuki community were moving out, they were attacked by a mob with iron rods and killed.” Their bodies are lying in Imphal’s RIMS Hospital.
When asked how her family identified their late kin’s body in the Imphal morgue, she said, “We contacted the police and got photographs from them to verify it.”
ITLF spokesperson Vualzong says, “We cannot go to Imphal, but the district administration arranges photos for the identification of the person.”
‘Nine cremation sites’
The Mittal committee report also talks about nine cremation sites, The Government of Manipur has identified nine sites where the next of kin can perform last rites and bury their loved ones. But where are these nine sites? Are these sites on the hillside or in the valley? The government is yet to declare where these sites are.
Representatives of both communities also don’t know about these “nine sites”.
The Wire reached out to Colin Gonsalves, who is representing a Kuki group in the court. Speaking to The Wire, Gonsalves said, “To date, we don’t know where these nine places are. The threat is if we don’t take in the bodies, the government will bury them for us. It is a shocking proposition.”
The tribal community is aggrieved by how the issue of burial has been handled by all parties. They have been desperate to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies for seven months. Since May, the government and the “dominant community”, they claim, have put up every possible obstruction.
Gonsalves also spoke about Kuki customs, which say that when people from the Kuki community are killed in action, the deceased members are buried side by side. “Many years ago, during an agitation in the hills, when seven Kukis were killed, all the seven Kukis were buried side by side. It’s in their tradition,” he said.
“Even now, when representatives of the tribals have held a meeting with the home ministry and cleared everything, certain individuals have obstructed the process. And what is the threat?”
The report states that a total of 175 people died in the violence, but this doesn’t include the number of deaths that happened due to the lack of medical facilities. Earlier, The Wire had reported that 45 people have already died due to lack of medicines in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi.
The report says, “Ex-Gratia payment has been completed to Noks for 73 cases, out of a total 169 identified cases. Out of the remaining 96 cases, 38 families have expressed unwillingness to receive the assistance due to pressure from Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) like ITLF, JPO, KIM, etc. For the remaining 58 cases, verification is underway and assistance would be released soon.”
The committee also claimed that there is “pressure” from civil society organisations on the families of the deceased to not perform last rites. This allegation has been a point of contention, with civil society organisations often being the sole support for bereaved families and the community.