As the dead bodies wait for relatives or near and dear ones they have shrunk to bare bones in the mortuaries of the state. Since ethnic riots erupted in Manipur on May 3, nearly 200 people have died and more than 60,000 civilians have fled their homes and are living in relief camps strewn across the state.
While many of the dead bodies have been dispatched and handed over to relatives, quite a few bodies still remain in mortuaries in RIMS, JNIMS and in Churachandpur. There are several dead bodies in Churachandpur also which are still waiting for burial and funeral rites. The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) had wanted to bury the 35 dead bodies in Torbung.
However, the proposed burial site near Torbung village lies within the compound of state Sericulture department’s Technical Service Centre and Mulberry Farm and it falls clearly under Torbung Gram Panchayat and under Village No 98-Torbung, Kumbi Circle, Bishnupur district. In short, it is in the Meitei settlement area which the Kuki-Zo community had earmarked for land-grabbing for a long time besides several other areas in the peripheral regions of the valley near the foothills.
Not only land-grabbing, they also wanted to make a political statement out of it. Both the state government and the Meitei community objected to it and the common burial was called off for the time being. And they go on spinning the yarn of victimhood. It was the same during the agitation against passing of three contentious bills also. Nine dead bodies remained without burial during the more than 600-day agitation against the three bills connected with the Inner Line Permit System.
There is usually a procedure for disposal of the dead if remains unidentified and unclaimed in a given time. A public notification is issued whereby the general public is informed that the body would be disposed and when the time given is over, the bodies are disposed in the crematorium of Imphal Municipal Corporation at Minuthong, Imphal. This is in the case of those who are suspected to be Hindus.
If the unidentified or unclaimed body bears any telltale signs of not being of the Hindu faith, it is usually buried in a government site at Mantripukhri. When a person dies, the body has to be disposed of and normally, religion takes over in these matters. A person’s faith is always taken into consideration while deciding the manner of disposal.
Among the Manipuri Vaishnavites, the disposal ritual is elaborately laid out, while that of the Christians is not that elaborate. According to the ancient Puyas of Manipur, four forms of disposal of the dead were in practice. The forms are by air, fire, earth and water. Among the Meiteis, burial both secondary and primary was in practice according to experts.
But, in Covid times, the traditional practices of disposal have become a matter of concern as public health issues have taken over. Now, since there seems to be no dispute regarding the identity and religion of the dead bodies in the mortuaries, the state government needs to take up steps for swift disposal. Who knows, politics might come in between the cremation or funeral rites in these unpredictable times.