Imphal: Tension gripped the Imphal Valley on Tuesday as police resorted to tear gas shelling and baton charges to disperse a large crowd of students who were protesting against the brutal killing of two youths belonging to an ethnic minority. The police action left more than 30 students injured, most of them girls, officials said.
The two youths, identified as Hijam Linthoingambi, 17, and Phijam Hemjit, 20, had gone missing in July and were allegedly abducted by armed men. Their dead bodies were found in a remote area and photos of their mutilated corpses were circulated on social media on Monday night, sparking outrage and anger among the community and their supporters. The students demanded justice for the victims and an end to the ethnic violence that has claimed 175 lives since May.
The protesters marched towards the Chief Minister’s Secretariat in Imphal, defying the curfew imposed in the valley, and clashed with the security forces who tried to stop them. The police fired tear gas shells and lathis to disperse the crowd, injuring several protesters who were taken to various hospitals for treatment.
The state government, in a statement issued on Monday, said that it had handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a fair and impartial probe. It also appealed to the people of the state to maintain peace and harmony and refrain from any violent acts. It said that the state police, along with central security agencies, were conducting a search operation to nab the culprits behind the killing of the two youths.
The ethnic violence in Manipur erupted in May after a controversial court order that directed the state government to send a recommendation to the central government for granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei community, who are the majority in the valley. The Kuki people, who are predominantly Christian and live in the hills, opposed this move and accused the Meitei community of encroaching on their ancestral lands and rights. The conflict also involved religious hatred and inflammatory speech against the Kuki community online and offline. The violence has resulted in thousands of people being displaced, hundreds of homes and churches being burnt down, and widespread reports of rape, torture and looting.