Manipur: Shutdown in hill areas after arrests over killing of two youths
Those arrested belong to the Kuki-Zo community and are alleged to be suspects in the killing of two Meitei youths in July this year
A complete shutdown in the tribal-dominated Churachandpur district of Manipur on Monday, 2 October, in response to the arrests of seven members of the Kuki-Zo community, including two children, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the district brought normal life to a standstill.
Public vehicles were off the roads, while markets and business establishments remained shut during the shutdown in the district, police said. While the call for an indefinite shutdown was issued by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a group of recognised tribal bodies, a joint meeting of various civil society organisations in Churachandpur resulted in the shutdown declaration, effective from 10 am on Monday.
Those arrested were alleged to be suspects in the case of the kidnapping and killing of two Manipuri youths in July this year. A preliminary investigation by the CBI suggested that the two youngsters — 17-year-old girl Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam and 20-year-old man Phijam Hemanjit — were last seen together on 6 July.
The appearance of images of the two young people on social media in recent times led to an upsurge in demonstrations in the Imphal Valley, leading to the case being handed over to the CBI, as one of the 11 cases involving women and children handed over to the agency in July.
A team of CBI officials, led by special director Ajay Bhatnagar, reached Manipur and started investigating the killings on 27 September.
The suspects were identified as Paominlun Haokip, S. Malsawm Haokip, Lhingneichong Baite, and Tinneilhing Henthang, along with the two minors. They were flown to Assam's capital Guwahati from Imphal by a joint team of the CBI and Manipur Police.
During the arrest, Lhingneichong’s children, aged nine and 11, were also detained along with their mother, and flown to Guwahati. They were later handed over to the district child protection officer of Assam’s Kamrup Metro district, the CBI said.
However, the Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) said in a statement that two of the suspects, Malsawm and Paominlun, are neither members of any militant group nor have any involvement in the alleged murders. “They are president and general secretary of KSO Leimata Block respectively,” it said.
The students body also said it supports the call for an indefinite shutdown in Churachandpur from 2 October against the "arbitrary arrests".
Representatives from Kuki organisations have formally requested the release of the seven arrested within 48 hours, failing which the organisations have warned of "more vigorous protests" across all hill districts of Manipur.
At the joint meeting, the Kuki-Zo civil society groups stated that all boundary areas connecting with the Meitei community would be sealed off. This action aims to restrict the movement of individuals in and out of these buffer zones. Furthermore, all government offices will remain closed during this period.
The situation in Churachandpur remained tense as residents prepared for an indefinite shutdown in response to the call. The civil society organisations are urging authorities to take immediate action and resolve the matter to prevent further escalation of tensions.
Certain essential services will be exempt from the shutdown to ensure the well-being of the local population. These services include water supply, press and media, medical facilities, electricity supply, and movement of ITLF staff.
Ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur on 3 May between the Meiteis (currently not recognised as a Scheduled Tribe) and Kukis, after a tribal solidarity march called by the All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM) in the Torbung area of Churachandpur district. The march was organised to protest against the recent Meitei demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.
The demand by Meiteis for inclusion in the ST category has been a contentious issue in Manipur for a while. Proponents argue that it would provide necessary safeguards and opportunities to the community, while critics, including ATSUM, express concerns about the potential dilution of reservation benefits for existing tribal groups, including the use of land.
At least 180 people have been killed in the ethnic violence since 3 May.