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Video Editors: Prajjwal Kumar and Purnendu Pritam
"My daughter was a very bright student. She always topped in her class – and wanted to pursue medicine. She loved to give us surprises, such as on Father's Day, with her siblings," said Kulajit Hijam, the father of 17-year-old Hijam Linthoingambi, who went missing in July 2023 and remains untraced to date.
The photos of the bodies of Hijam Linthoingambi and another Meitei student, Phijam Hemjit, who had gone missing on 6 July, surfaced on social media, days after internet services were restored in violence-hit Manipur.
Their bodies, however, are reportedly yet to be found.
"How could they have killed those innocent children who were coming back from tuitions and had admit cards in their bags? We have seen the photos. There must be justice. We don't want to hear any excuses. This is not the rule of law."Kulajit Hijam
In a statement released on X (formerly Twitter), the Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh's office confirmed that the photos were of 20-year-old Phijam Hemjit and 17-year-old Hijam Linthoingambi – both Meiteis from Imphal.
'Daughter Went for Tuitions, Went Missing'
One of the widely circulated photos shows the two students sitting on the ground, in what appears to be a forest, with two armed men in the background. Another photo shows them lying on the ground purportedly after they were shot dead.
The photos were taken on 8 July, two days after the two students went missing.
On 4 August, Linthoingambi's father told a local news channel that she used to attend physics tuitions at Keishampat in Imphal West District, and chemistry tuitions at Meino Leirak in Imphal.
"She used to walk to her physics tuition centre from her chemistry tuition centre. On 6 July, too, she went for her tuitions," Kulajit recalled, adding that, "She was talking to her mother over the phone and suddenly her phone was switched off. It is as if someone snatched her phone from her."
The two students remained untraced for the last two months even as security agencies searched for them and the locals took to streets to locate them.
In the statement, the CMO added that "this case has already been handed over to the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] as per the wishes of the people of the state."
It added that the police and central security agencies were probing the case and search operations were on to nab those who murdered the two students.
"The government is committed to ensuring justice prevails and will impose severe punishment on any perpetrators found responsible for this heinous crime. The Government encourages the public to exercise restraint and to let the authorities handle the investigation," the statement noted.
'Why Did It Take So Long?'
"I may be right or wrong, but one thing I know is that the government has an SoO (Suspension of Operation) with Kuki militants," said Kulajit. "So, how can this government take so long to trace them when they know these kids are under their custody? Social media is tracing the victims, not the authorities."
The distressed father also appealed to the Manipur government to find the mortal remains of the two youngsters.
"We have visual proof, so the authorities should trace the location and arrest the culprits. They should find the body remains," he added.
The two friends are suspected to have been abducted by "Kuki armed miscreants," according to a status report submitted by the Manipur government in the Supreme Court last month.