Hijam Linthoingami (17) and Phijam Hemjit (20) of Imphal went missing on July 6. After months of dread, their parents’ worst nightmare came realised when two images emerged confirming their deaths, prompting the state government to declare that “swift and decisive” action will be taken against the offenders.
On Tuesday, Meiteis protested again in the valley sections of strife-torn Manipur, and mobile internet services, which had been restored just days before after nearly five months, were cut again in the evening. According to a Home Department order, mobile internet services would be unavailable for the next five days.
One of the photographs that have surfaced shows the two children sitting next to each other outside, with two guys carrying arms standing behind them. The second image allegedly depicts both bodies collapsed on the ground next to each other, with Hemjit’s head missing.
“I’ve never seen her gaze in that photo before.” It hurts me a lot. Such a profound stare, so full of love and emotion… “How could they have killed two children?” Linthoingambi’s father, Kulajit Hijam, told The Deccan Era on Tuesday at his house in Imphal, a day after the images surfaced.
Hemjit’s mother, Birodini Devi, stated she had given up hope on his returning home alive. “Because there was no proof that they had been murdered, we were unable to perform any rituals.” The photographs from yesterday indicate his death. “All I want now is for the authorities to give me even a bone or a piece of clothing for the last rites,” she added.
Soon after the photos were released, the Chief Minister’s Secretariat issued a statement stating that the two people in the photos were the two missing children and that the case had already been passed to the CBI.
“State police are actively investigating the case in collaboration with central security agencies to determine the circumstances surrounding their disappearance and to identify the perpetrators who murdered the two students.” The search for the offenders has also begun, according to the statement.
However, for the two families, the wait for answers – and their corpses – has already been lengthy. “When we complained to the police, they simply told us that they had gone into a Kuki-dominated area where they (police personnel) do not have the authority to enter.” We were asked to discuss with higher-ups. We had meetings with the Chief Minister, Governor, and Security Advisor. They vowed to take action, but nothing was done. “Had government officials been proactive, the children could have been found and the miscreants arrested,” Birodini Devi added.
Linthoingami would attend classes at a coaching centre in Keishampat Mutum Leikai every morning, according to testimony supplied to authorities by her relatives. However, she did not return by the regular hour of 8.30 a.m. on July 6. When her father, Hijam Kulajit Singh, called her, she stated she was on her way home, but her phone was turned off a few minutes later. When CCTV footage from the vicinity revealed that she had left on Hemjit’s motorcycle, her relatives filed a police report accusing him of kidnapping her. An FIR was filed against Hemjit at the Imphal police station on July 8.
The last known location of Hijam’s phone was Lamdan in Churachandpur district, and Hemjit’s family had also approached the police. This case was one of 11 cases of violence against women and children handed to the CBI in August, shortly after the case of three Kuki-Zomi women being paraded naked and sexually assaulted surfaced in late July.
In fact, this is the only one of the 11 cases in which the victims are from the Meitei community.
Meanwhile, widespread protests erupted across Imphal on Tuesday, demanding justice for the two children. During the day, protesters from Imphal’s schools and colleges began marching towards the Chief Minister’s house. Police and the Rapid Action Force used tear gas rounds to push them back.
Protests became considerably louder in the evening, particularly in the Singjamei region, where police officers repeatedly deployed tear gas shells. More than 40 individuals were hurt during the day, according to officials. The Education Department also stated that due to the “prevailing law and order situation,” schools in the state will be closed on Wednesday and Friday, while Thursday is a public holiday.
“In light of the distressing news that emerged yesterday regarding the tragic demise of the missing students, I want to assure the people of the state that both the state and central government are closely working together to nab the perpetrators,” stated Chief Minister N Biren Singh in the evening. To expedite this critical enquiry, the CBI Director, along with a specialised team, will arrive in Imphal on a special flight tomorrow morning. Their presence demonstrates our authorities’ determination to handle this situation as soon as possible. I have been in frequent contact with Hon’ble Union Home Minister Amit Shah ji to investigate and prosecute the offenders.”
A team of ten officers, including the CBI Special Director, will take a special flight from Delhi to Manipur on Wednesday morning. According to sources, Joint Director Ghanshyam Upadhyay will join them in Manipur.
Twenty-four Meitei MLAs also wrote to the Union Home Minister, requesting that the CBI “take up expeditious action” to apprehend the perpetrators “as was similarly done earlier in the viral video case,” alluding to the stripping and sexual assault of three Kuki-Zomi women.
Kulajit, Linthoingambi’s father, made the same point: “If the government is truly committed, I want justice delivered within seven days – just as it was done when the women were paraded naked.”