Their Children Missing and the Authorities Silent, Two Manipuri Families Don't Know Where to Turn

Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam and Phijam Hemanjit Singh were last seen together on CCTV footage on July 6. Since then, both their families have been trying everything they can to get the authorities to act.

Imphal: Two families in Manipur have been facing every parent’s nightmare – one family’s daughter, Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam, and the other’s son, Phijam Hemanjit Singh, have gone missing. Despite the police knowing the children’s last location, they have not been located – leaving the parents desperate for answers.

On the morning of July 6, 17-year-old Luwangbi, who dreams of becoming a doctor, attended her physics and chemistry class at a coaching centre. On that particular day, her father, Hijam Kulajit Singh, who usually dropped and picked her up, was unwell and couldn’t accompany her. That day, Luwangbi never returned home; her father now regrets not going to pick her up. “Her coaching started at 5 am and ended at 8:15 am; I used to drop her off and pick her up from the coaching, but that was the day when I didn’t go to pick her up, and since then, she is missing. I curse myself for not going to pick my daughter,” he told The Wire.

The disappearance occurred right after the reopening of schools/coaching centres in Manipur, which had been closed because of ethnic violence. Luwangbi attended her classes, and CCTV footage showed her riding a KTM Duke 200 with Phijam Hemanjit Singh, her friend. Initially, both families thought the youngsters might have eloped as they seemed to be in love with each other. Luwangbi had mentioned visiting Nambol Bazar after class, but her phone went off after her last message from Khoupum, a Naga-dominated area about 40 km from the family home, according to her mother, Jayashree Devi. “I kept trying to call her but it was switched off,” Jayashree Devi added.

Fearing the worst, the family decided to file an FIR against Phijam Hemanjit Singh, although the police questioned them about turning a love story into a case since the girl was a minor. The FIR included charges of kidnapping and abduction with the intention to compel her into marriage, as per IPC Sections 366, 368 and 34. The FIR says Hemanjit is 20 years old, though his family says he is 17.

Hijam Kulajit Singh. Photo: Yaqut Ali

Despite their efforts, the police failed to bring Luwangbi back even after five days. In desperation, Luwangbi’s parents wrote to the chairperson of the Manipur Commission for Protection of Child Rights, seeking assistance. The family also met with Rekha Sharma, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, during her visit to Imphal. Luwangbi’s parents told The Wire that they felt disheartened at her “lack of interest” in the case.

On July 25, Sharma was in Imphal where the family met her at a hotel and requested her help in finding their daughter. They also said that if she is dead, her body should be handed over for last rites. Kulajit Singh said, “They [the authorities] seemed uninterested in our case. Rekha Sharma left us by saying, ‘Don’t say that she is dead in front of everyone.’”

Meanwhile, Phijam Hemanjit Singh’s family has a different story to tell. Speaking to The Wire, Phijam Ibungobi Singh said, “He left home at 8 AM on July 6, telling his mother that he is going to watch a football match.”

Luwangbi’s parents reached Phijam’s home after seeing the CCTV footage. Ibungobi tried calling his son, but the phone was switched off. On July 7, a cybercrime report came in, stating that the last location of both the girl and boy was ‘Phabakchao Ikhai’. Subsequently, both families went to the concerned police station from the Imphal police station, but the police stated that there is no evidence of the girl and boy being present in the area.

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“After three to four days, my son’s mobile phone turned on but with a new SIM card. The location of the SIM card was in Churachandpur district,” said his father. Ibungobi also shared a call recording with The Wire, in which a man says, “Who is there? What do you want?” Upon hearing this, Ibungobi broke into tears and disconnected the phone. The Wire tried to find out the details of the SIM card inserted in his son’s phone. Sources told The Wire that the SIM card was issued by Airtel and is registered under the name Lhing Neichomg of Churachandpur, tehsil Lamdan.

“Police have traced my son’s last location but they refused to visit the location to investigate the matter as the area is Kuki dominated,” said Ibungobi.

Phijam Hemanjit Singh. Photo: Yaqut Ali

His missing person’s complaint to the police is dated July 19. The complaint, which The Wire has seen, states that the delay in filing the complaint was due to Ibungobi’s poor health and that the family fears Hemanjit has been abducted by unknown persons.

The Wire also tried to speak with Ibungobi’s wife, Y. Biruhini Devi, but she refused to speak. She only said, “My son left without eating, and he didn’t have a single rupee with him – he must be hungry.”

The family also raised questions over the law and order situation in Manipur. “We don’t know if he is alive or not, the entire system is not working. They have been missing since July 6, and the police knows the last location – still, they are not helping. So, where should we go and what should we do?” Hemanjit Singh’s aunt, I. Binashakhi, asked.

Ibungobi Singh also met with chief minister N. Biren Singh, Governor Anusuiya Uikey, local MLA Sapam Kunjakeshor, and security advisor Kuldeep Singh, but everyone has failed to help the families. Both families have also protested several times, but nothing has come of that either.

The families feel let down by the system and fear for their children’s safety, unsure of their fate.

The Wire tried contacting the SP of the police station multiple times but failed to get a response. This article will be updated if a response is received.