"The outrage is against the fact that two students went missing in full public view two months ago – and the police are yet to discover their bodies. We want justice for the two victims," says Rohan Nigobam (name changed), a 16-year-old student at a school in Imphal West.
Nigobam was among the hundreds of students who took to the streets of Imphal to protest against the suspected murder of two Meitei students – 17-year-old Hijam Linthoingambi and 20-year-old Phijam Hemjit.
The photos of the bodies of the duo, who had been missing since 6 July, surfaced on social media earlier this week when the ban on the internet was revoked again.
Chanting slogans of 'We Want Justice', the protesting students were seen heading towards Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh's bungalow in Imphal West's Moirangkhom on Wednesday, 27 September, when the security forces allegedly fired several rounds of tear gas shells and smoke bombs in an attempt to disperse the crowd. At least 120 students were injured.
"We had all gathered peacefully when the police started attacking us. Everyone started running helter-skelter and the cops lobbed tear gas shells at us. I fell down and hurt my knee in all this confusion," claims Somendro Thockhom (name changed), a class 11 student at a government school in Imphal.
Wednesday's protest took place in the backdrop of a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team, led by its special director Ajay Bhatnagar, reaching Imphal to investigate the alleged kidnapping and murder of the two students.
Students Miffed at Biren Singh's 'Inaction'
"Every time a bit of normalcy seems to be returning to the state, it is always overshadowed by another major trigger point. For instance, in July, when it looked like things were slowly getting back to normal on the ground, the video of two women being paraded naked went viral, leading to massive outrage," says Nigobam.
Nigobam had participated in a similar protest on the night of Tuesday, 26 September. He alleges that the Manipur Police "repeatedly attacked and injured innocent civilians" during the protest.
"On Tuesday, when I reached the protest spot, a small group was protesting peacefully. But then suddenly, the cops started attacking the students with tear gas. It was chaos all around."Rohan Nigobam
On Tuesday night, clashes broke out between Rapid Action Force personnel and locals in Imphal, prompting the law enforcers to lob tear gas shells and fire rubber bullets at the agitators and baton-charge them, leaving at least 45 protesters, mostly students, injured.
The Manipur Police, however, in a press statement, said that some "miscreants" who participated in the protests "used iron pieces and stones (marbles)" against security forces, because of which "minimum force" was used to disperse the congregation. They said they fired some tear gas shells, which resulted in injuries to some people.
"Police detained 1,697 persons in connection with violations in different districts of the state," the statement said.
Nigobam explains that students are expressing their outrage because they are miffed with the "inaction" of the Biren Singh government.
"Students' groups are angered by the killing of the two students and the inaction of the Biren Singh government, which has not been able to solve the problem even after two months," he says.
'Security Forces Forcefully Stopped Students'
Elaborating on the sequence of events leading up to the clashes on Wednesday, 27 September, All Manipur Students' Union president Abhijit Singh tells The Quint that as hundreds of students were marching towards the Chief Minister's bungalow and the Governor's bungalow, they were forcibly stopped by the security forces.
"The protesters were forcibly stopped by security forces at Yaiskul – and that is when things started escalating. The police did initially try to engage with the students in a dialogue... They even asked us to choose 20 people to have a dialogue with the Chief Minister. But we soon noticed the police initiating the water cannon vehicle. This created some anxiety and fear among the protesters," he claims.
"The cops then used tear gas and the students responded by throwing stones at the police using slingshots," he adds.
N Biren Singh met representatives of the students. In the evening, the chief minister appealed to the people to have faith in the government's handling of the case.
He further said he had instructed the security forces to exercise "maximum restraint while controlling the mob" and that "action would be initiated if security personnel use excessive action against the public, especially students, in controlling their agitation," according to The Telegraph.