Imphal: The state of Manipur is witnessing a wave of violence and unrest over the mysterious deaths of two students belonging to the Meitei community, who had gone missing in July this year. The protesters, who allege that the students were killed by members of a rival tribal group, have been clashing with the security forces and vandalizing public and private properties in several parts of the state. On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, a mob of angry protesters attacked the residence of A Sharda Devi, the president of the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and pelted stones at her house, injuring two people including her sister.
Sharda Devi, who is also a member of the Meitei community, said that she was being targeted by the protesters because they believed that she had condemned the incident of a woman being paraded naked by some tribal men in Churachandpur district on September 25, but had not spoken out against the killings of the two students. She said that this was a false accusation and that she had denounced both the incidents as barbaric and inhuman. She also said that she was scared for her life and property as she had received information that the mob would try to burn down her house.
She accused some political forces of instigating and misleading the youth to create chaos and disrupt the peace and development work done by the BJP-led government in the state. She demanded a thorough investigation into the matter and urged the protesters to maintain calm and restraint.
The two students, identified as Thangjam Sanjit Singh and Kshetrimayum Bala Devi, had reportedly gone to Ukhrul district on July 31 to attend a friend’s wedding. They never returned home and their families filed missing complaints with the police. On September 26, some photographs of their decomposed bodies were circulated on social media, sparking outrage and protests among the Meitei community. The protesters claimed that the students were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by some Naga militants who operate in the Ukhrul district.
The police have registered a case of murder and abduction and have formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case. The state government has also announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the families of the deceased students.
However, these measures have failed to pacify the protesters, who have been demanding justice and accountability from the authorities. They have also been opposing the demand of the Meitei community to be granted Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, which they fear would affect their rights and privileges as indigenous people of Manipur.
The protests have turned violent in many areas, especially in Imphal East and Imphal West districts, where curfew has been reimposed to control the situation. The protesters have been blocking roads, burning tyres, and throwing stones and petrol bombs at the security forces, who have been using tear gas shells, rubber bullets, and batons to disperse them. Several government offices, vehicles and buildings have been damaged or set on fire by the mob.
On Tuesday night, a group of protesters stormed into the office of the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Imphal West district and set ablaze two vehicles parked there. They also ransacked some rooms and furniture in the office. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel intervened and brought the situation under control.
On Wednesday morning, another group of protesters attacked a police vehicle near the Uripok area and set it on fire. They also assaulted a policeman and snatched his weapon. The police have issued a statement warning of strict action against those involved in such crimes and have launched a search operation to recover the weapon and arrest the culprits.
The BJP office at Khongjam in Thoubal district was also torched by some miscreants on Wednesday afternoon. No one was injured in the incident.
According to official sources, at least 65 protesters have been injured in these clashes since Tuesday. Some of them are said to be critical. The Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) of Manipur has appealed to the security forces not to use excessive force against teenagers who are participating in the protests.
The state has been witnessing frequent incidents of violence and tension between different communities since May this year when a tribal solidarity rally was held in the hill districts against the Meitei community’s demand for ST status. More than 180 people have died and hundreds have been injured in various clashes since then.