In March this year, Chingneihhoih Munluah told The Quint that she won’t bury her brother Khamsianmun unless the guilty who shot him are punished and their demand for self-governance and a separate state is fulfilled.
Khamsianmun was one of the nine protesters who died on 31 August 2015 – they were killed in police firing and in the violence that erupted amid anti-government protests in Churachandpur town in Manipur.
For the last 18 months, eight bodies have been waiting for burial in Manipur’s Churachandpur district. Their relatives have refused to bury the bodies till their demands are fulfilled. The protests in Churachandpur were led by the Joint Action Committee Against the Anti-Tribal Bill (JACAATB)l, comprising tribals living in Churachandpur.
Now, after the newly elected state government under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come to power in Manipur, it has reached out to the local Paite tribals of Churachandpur to resolve the issue.
A 360-degree view of the freezers that contain the eight bodies in the morgue in the Churachandpur District Hospital. (Photo: Tridip K Mandal/The Quint)
On 10 May, the BJP government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Joint Action Committee, following which the latter has agreed to bury the eight dead bodies before 25 May.
The Genesis of the Churachandpur Conflict
"Separation from Manipur is the only solution". "We’ll defend our land to the end, it’s all that we have". These slogans can be seen on every street in the district. A grim reminder of a cause for which blood flowed on the streets of Churachandpur.
On 31 August 2015, the Ibobi Singh-led state government passed three bills to primarily appease the Meitei population, who were demanding an ‘Inner Line Permit’ to restrict and regulate the entry of ‘outsiders’ (Indians included) into Manipur.
The relatives of the dead have put up a shed outside the morgue in Churachandpur. Condolence meeting and prayers are held here everyday. (Photo: Tridip K Mandal/The Quint)
The tribals of the hill districts allege that the bills were introduced without any consultation with them and actually undermined their tribal traditions, to the extent that their very existence, their right over their land and property were at stake.
Soon, violent protests broke out in Churachandpur and some attacked police stations and properties of local politicians. It was this violence that had claimed nine lives.
A view from inside the deep freezer where the coffins are kept. (Photo: Tridip K Mandal/The Quint)
Since that day, these bodies have been kept at the morgue at the Churachandpur District Hospital, the relatives resolute that they won’t bury them until the guilty are punished and their demands are met. (Of the nine bodies, one was taken away from the morgue and buried by relatives in December last year.)
The bodies have been kept in the morgue for more than 18 months now. (Photo: Tridip K Mandal/The Quint)
Finally, a Solution in Sight?
Chief Minister N Biren Singh said the state government would provide an ex-gratia sum of Rs 5 lakh and jobs to the kin of the nine protesters who died in 2015.
The interests of indigenous tribal people will be protected and I appeal to the people to not resort to bandh and blockade. The agreement with the JACAATB was reached after a series of talks with different civil bodies of Churachandpur district.N Biren Singh
The memorial at Churachandpur for the nine people killed during the protests of 31 August 2015. (Photo: Tridip K Mandal/The Quint)
The chief minister of Manipur also asserted that anyone who disturbs law and order will be firmly dealt with.
The government has also promised Rs 50,000 to the 48 people with minor injuries and a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the eight people who were seriously injured.
The MoU also states that a memorial park would be constructed at Lamka and a memorial hall in Singngat will be set up.
The End of Tribal Movement in Churachandpur?
According to a JACAATB who spoke on condition of anonymity, the MoU was allegedly signed under duress.
According to the source, the state government had clearly stated that if JACAATB didn’t arrive at an amicable solution, then the state would forcibly bury the eight dead bodies.
On its part, the source said, the state government has promised to provide all assistance and cooperation to the talks between various underground groups representing the tribals in Manipur, and the Central Government.
But the political aspirations of the tribal people in Manipur are yet to be achieved and whether they are, depends on the parties involved in the tripartite talks.
Cameraman: Tridip K Mandal
Multimedia Producer: Puneet Bhatia