A seven-year-old tribal boy, who was injured by a bullet when he was in an Assam Rifles relief camp, was burnt alive in Imphal on the evening of Sunday, 4 June, along with his Meitei mother and another relative, when the ambulance carrying them was waylaid by a mob and set on fire.
The deceased have been identified as Tonsing Hangsing (7), his mother Meena Hangsing (45), who was a Meitei Christian married to a Kuki, and their relative Lydia Lourembam (37), also a Meitei Christian.
Joshua Hangsing, the child's father, said he is still waiting for the police to contact him and is yet to receive their bodies.
"I am yet to receive the bodies, and am too scared to go the police station," he added.
The incident took place in Imphal West's Iroisemba area, which falls under the jurisdiction of Lamphel Police Station. A police officer from the station confirmed to The Quint that the vehicle was set ablaze at around 7 pm on Sunday.
"There was not much left to salvage and all we managed to recover were some bones from inside the ambulance. We registered an FIR, which also includes sections pertaining to murder, at the station on 4 June," he added.
'Not Spared Despite Being Meiteis'
On 4 May, after large-scale violence broke out in Manipur following a tribal solidarity rally the previous day, Tonsing and his family fled from their village of Kangchup, which is situated in the Kangpokpi district. They reportedly sought refuge at an Assam Rifles camp right outside the village.
Their village is primarily inhabited by Kukis and is about 15 km from the Imphal Valley.
Gin Hangsing, a relative of the Tonsing family and a resident of the same village, told The Quint that on 4 June, Tonsing, his mother, and Lydia were heading to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal after Tonsing was injured in the head with a bullet due to some firing that took place in the area.
"Tonsing was shot in the head from a distance and we don't really know if it was a stray bullet or if it aimed at him," he alleged.
Palonel Hangsing, another relative, said that though Meena and Lydia were Christians, they belonged to the Meitei community and thought they would not be attacked while travelling through the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley.
"Despite being Meiteis, they were not spared," he added.
Palonel said they left in three vehicles – the ambulance, and two vehicles with Manipur Police personnel who escorted them.
What Did the Assam Rifles Say?
An Assam Rifles spokesperson, while denying that they were a part of the effort to move the family to the hospital, told The Indian Express that Tonsing, his mother, and Lydia were, in fact, escorted by Manipur Police personnel.
A male nurse, who was accompanying the three persons in the ambulance, confirmed the same to the newspaper and said, "We were escorted by the district police."
The nurse added that when they reached Iroisemba, they were totally surrounded by a mob.
"The driver and I were pulled out of the vehicle and taken to a club nearby. The police were outnumbered... We were kept at a club for about two hours," he was quoted as saying.
Imphal West SP Ibomcha Singh did not respond to The Quint's calls, messages, and emails seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the Centre airlifted around 1,000 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel to Manipur on Tuesday, 6 June, as violence continued in the state.
More than 20,000 central armed police force personnel and army troops have been deployed in Manipur since clashes broke out between the Kukis and Meiteis on 3 May.