Fresh protests broke out in Imphal in Manipur on Tuesday, September 26, after the state government announced that two students who had gone missing in July have been murdered. Thousands of students took to the streets in Imphal seeking justice for the two students belonging to the Meitei community after their photos were shared widely on social media. Videos showed the security forces resorting to firing and tear gas to disperse the protesting students.
The state government issued a statement on Monday that Hijam Linthoingambi (17) and Hemanjit Singh (20), both residents of Imphal, were murdered and the inquiry into the case has been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Imphal Police said they suspect that the students had been killed by Kuki militants.
The state government’s statement came after photos of the two students were shared widely on social media following the restoration of mobile internet services in the state on September 23 five months after it was suspended. It has been suspended once again, on September 26, for a period of five days.
In the first photograph, the students Linthoingambi and Hemjit are seen sitting in a makeshift camp of an armed group. Linthoingambi is in a white T-shirt while Hemanjit, holding a backpack and in a checked shirt, looks on. Behind them, four men with guns are clearly visible. The second photo is a gruesome image of their bodies on the ground with Hemanjit’s head missing.
"[The] state police, in collaboration with the central security agencies, are actively investigating the case to determine the circumstances surrounding their disappearance and to identify the perpetrators who murdered the two students,” the Chief Minister’s Secretariat noted in a press release on September 25. “The security forces have also started the search operation to nab the perpetrators," the statement added.
The two students had gone missing on July 6, two months after violent ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur between the Meitei and the Kuki communities. Over 200 people have been killed and nearly 60,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes due to the conflict.
The families of Hemanjit Singh and Linthoingambi Hijam had been conducting sit-in protests in Imphal city, demanding that the state government track down their whereabouts. On July 6, Hemanjit had picked up Hijam from her coaching centre before heading towards Moirang. Police officials suspected they had been captured by Kuki militants but with the state divided by assumptive boundaries between the Kuki and Meitei communities, the investigation did not progress as police was unable to visit Kuki areas.
The state government had appealed to the public that swift action will be taken against those involved in the crime. “The government assures the public that swift and decisive action will be taken against all those involved in the kidnapping and killing of Hemanjit and Hijam Linthoingambi,” it said. “The government is committed to ensuring justice and will impose severe punishment on any perpetrator found responsible for the heinous crime,” it added.
Despite the state government’s appeal, thousands of students took part in the protest held on Tuesday.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that the Modi government should be ashamed of its inaction in dealing with the violence. “Children are the most vulnerable victims of ethnic violence,” she said. “It is our duty to do all we can to protect them. The horrific crimes being committed in Manipur are beyond words, yet they are being allowed to continue unabated,” she added.