“It was a horrifying scene and I can identify those who destroyed and burned our houses,” a displaced person from Khumujamba Leikai of Churachandpur district says as he recalls the fateful evening of May 3, adding, “It was around 5 pm. Sensing trouble was brewing, we ran for our lives”.
Speaking to the Imphal Free Press, displaced people of Khumujamba Leikai say the communal clash that erupted on May 3, 2023 was not the first case of communal clash in Churachandpur. However, around 3.20 pm this May 3, the day the tribal solidarity march was carried out in the hill districts of Manipur, Kuki militants with sophisticated arms and many men, mostly in black dresses, were seen running from Churachandpur towards Waikhurok village of Kumbi constituency where there were 33 Meitei households. Many of them did not speak the local tribal dialect, the displaced people recall.
They say Kuki militants were heard talking to each other, saying that Waikhurok village was a small place and therefore they should attack it later. They were heard saying that they should first attack Torbung where there was a bigger Meitei population. Then, they proceeded towards Torbung Bangla along the Tiddim Road, they recall.
On seeing the Kuki militants, the Meitei residents of Waikhurok locked their respective houses and ran for their lives, running through paddy fields. Then, the Kuki militants started destroying the Meitei properties of Torbung and adjoining villages with stones, catapults and logs. Some Kuki women were seen transporting stones in handcarts, they say.
At Torbung Sabal Maning Leikai, the Kuki militants first burned down the house of one Indramani (Meitei man) and then the community hall, the displaced people recall.
They say that there were about 205 Meitei households (1892 Meitei populations) living in Khumujamba Leikai with the majority of them having their own homestead land. The place is surrounded by the Hmar community in the East and by the Paite in the west and south.
On May 3, at around 3.30 pm, they saw vehicles moving along the roads near Khumujamba Leikai. At around 5 pm, sensing trouble was brewing, the Meitei families started rushing to other nearby Meitei houses with many families taking shelter in the houses of one Abung and Tomba (both Meitei men) who had RCC building with strong gates. Then, they heard the sound of the banging of electric posts and through the security cameras, those gathered at Abung’s house saw that many tribals had assembled in and around the Khumujamba Leikai, they recall.
Then, suddenly they saw the burst of flames and thick smoke even as some of the Meiteis received phone calls from people in the vicinity and hiding, informing that the tribal attackers were heading to Khumujamba Leikai; a Meitei shop ‘Raghumani shop’ was first seen set on fire. Rina (a Meitei woman) called up one Memi, wife of local MLA Khaute, requesting her to send a police team to which Memi responded that she would do the needful.
Around 9 pm, the Meitei villagers could see the burning of their houses at Thengra and Khuga Tampak from the balcony of Abung’s house. Some Meitei youths were trying very hard to protect their properties from the attackers, but the attackers fired with automatic guns and ultimately, the Meitei youths fled for their lives, the displaced people recall.
After midnight, personnel of Assam Rifles arrived and around 1:30 am, elderly persons, women and children were asked to walk to 27 Sector Assam Rifles camp at Tuibong. As it was unsafe to walk along the road, they requested Assam Rifles to take them in their vehicles. Then, around 3:30 am, the Assam Rifles provided a vehicle that could accommodate around 40 people.
The next morning, around 5 am, some of Meitei families were waiting for Assam Rifles to evacuate them to Imphal. At that time, one tribal lady police personnel repeatedly shouted in Manipuri language saying, “Moi-se Mapanda Inthokla-ga Nongmeina-hek Kappa-ga Hatokpa” (We should push them out and shoot them to death).
On reaching relief camps, the Meitei residents filed their respective reports to various police stations in connection with the incident. They were informed that all their properties have been completely burned down and looted. Till date, the police have not initiated any action despite filing a number of written reports, the displaced people lament.
According to a woman, on that day, around 6:30 pm, she saw a group of Kuki men running towards Khumujamba Leikai, firing several rounds of gunfire. Her family, including her sister-in-law, ran for their lives with her carrying her niece on her back while also holding her two sons. But she stumbled and was unable to get up. And on her insistence, her sister-in-law picked up her niece and ran with her two sons. Subsequently, the miscreants caught her and assaulted her sexually. When she regained consciousness, she found herself in a house surrounded by Meiteis, she recalls.
She filed a written report to the Women Police Station, Bishnupur and on the basis of her report, a Zero FIR No 00(08)2023 WPS-BPR u/s 376-D/354/120-B/34 IPC was registered at Women Police Station, Bishnupur and the same was transferred to Churachandpur police station. She was sent for medical examination at the Department of Forensic Science, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, she says.
Meisnam Jotin Meitei (50) of Khumujamba said that early May 3, he and his friend Munan left Churachandpur for Potsangbam village in Bishnupur. At Torbung area, they saw some tribal men blocking the road but they did not stop him. Then, around 4 pm, they got stuck in the Kangvai area as they were returning to Churachandpur. But when he and his friend reached Kangvai around 5 pm, they saw tribal people destroying and burning houses. He also saw some police personnel there, but they (police) did not make any attempt to stop the tribal people while a young Meitei man shouted at the police, “Noi Chat Khro Eikhoi-ga Thengna Houra-ge” (You police leave the area, we civilians will defend ourselves). The house of one Mongbam Sana (Meitei man) at Torbung was set on fire before his eyes. He knows him (Sana) very well as Sana used to stay at Thengra Leirak, Churachandpur, but Sana recently shifted to Torbung. He managed to record (video) the burning by using a mobile phone, he says.
One Salam Rina (54) of Khumujamba Meitei Leikai, Churachandpur also says that on May 3 this year, she opened her hotel located near her house where she used to sell cooked items as usual. Around 4:30 pm, she came across a video clip circulated through Facebook showing conflict in the Torbung area.
Around 7 pm, some locals informed her that shops owned by Meiteis were burned down and seeing a shop owned by one M Ragumani, a Meitei, set on fire, she rushed to Abung’s house.
Next morning, at around 2 am, the men who were guarding the gate spoke of the arrival of the army. Then, they were told to walk out up to the main road, but fearing for their lives, they refused. Around 5 am, she and other Meiteis were evacuated by the army and then shifted to the Mini Secretariat.
They say there are 18 villages in Churachandpur with Meitei population of about 8350 approximately. The villages are (1) Khumujamba Leikai, (2) Thingkangphai, (3) Meitei Christian Leikai, (4) Khuga Tampak Meitei Leikai, (5) Leimaram Meitei Leikai (Di Phalilian), (6) Mata and Lingsiphai, (7) Ngathal, (8) Hmar Veng, (9) Mandov Leikai, (10) Thengra Leirak, (11) Tuibog Farm Mamang Leikai, (12) Bijang Khunou, (13) Molnon, (14) Yaiphakol Meitei Leikai, (15) Di Phailian, (16) Saikot Meitei Leikai (17) Old Bazar and (18) New Bazar.
The displaced people say that the Kuki miscreants also burned down 10 Laishang (temples) namely (1) Iputhou Pakhangba Laishang located at Thingkangphai, (2) Ima Mata Lairembi Laishang located at Mata village, (3) Iputhou Khuman Pokpa Laishang located at Tuibong village, (4) Iputhou Maikei Ngakpa Laishang located at Khumujamba Leikai, (5) Iputhou Maikei Ngakpa Laishang located at Khuga Tampak, (6) Nongpok Ningthou Laishang located at Di Phailen, (7) Apokpa Sanglen located at Khuga Tampak, (8) Radha-Krishna Mandir located at Mandav Leikai (9) Ibudhou Nongpok Ningthou Laishang located at Tuibong Farm Mamamg and (10) Sajal House at Yaiphakol (which they consider to be a place of worship).
On reaching the relief camps and other safer places, the displaced victims of Churachandpur filed reports at various police stations, including Moirang police station, Bishnupur police station and Nambol police station, etc.
All the FIRs at Bishnupur police station were found to be registered under Section 148/436/427/34 IPC against unknown persons and those FIRs at Nambol police station were registered under Section 147/427/436/454. All these FIRs (except three FIRs) were transferred to Churachandpur police station. However, neither the informants/complainants nor a single witness has been examined till date despite the registration of FIRs.
There is no criminal investigations and prosecution of the guilty, even departmental enquiries or disciplinary action has not been initiated against any of the authorities, including district administration and police authoritis under whose negligence and lapses that such heinous crimes, including destroying and burning of public properties, have persistently occurred in Churachandpur.
Therefore, the victims of the violence have approached the Manipur Human Rights Commission for direction to the investigating officers of Manipur police to record statements of all the displaced persons who are currently taking shelter at various relief camps, including children.