On May 4, when Letminthang Haokip telephoned his sister Kim from Imphal, she immediately knew something was wrong.
In hushed tones, Letminthang, 26, told her, “Meitei mobs are gathered here. I am scared. What will I do? Maybe they can hear me. Let’s talk through text.”
Sitting 3,000 km away in Maharashtra, Kim was anxious. As the day progressed, her anxiety turned to fear.
At 2.39 pm, her brother texted her: “Meiteis have gathered in the area.” Two minutes later, he texted, “They are raising slogans in the locality.” At 2.44 pm, he texted wondering whether “Meiteis are even guarding the airport”.
That was the last text. Hours passed and Kim’s frantic calls and texts to Letminthang went unanswered. That night, an acquaintance telephoned her and said her brother’s charred body had been found at the Central Public Works Department quarters in Imphal, where he lived.
Letminthang was working as a tax assistant in the income tax department. Locals he had been “dragged” from his living quarters and “beaten to death”. The IRS Association , tweeting that “no cause or ideology can justify the killing of an innocent public servant on duty”.
Over two months later, Kim is still coming to terms with her brother’s death. Letminthang had joined the tax department only last May. He had lived in Maharashtra until 2021, graduating with a master’s degree in mathematics. Kim also has a 16-year-old sister; the siblings lost their mother last year to cancer while their father died in 2016.
“After the demise of our mother, we were parents to each other. He was younger than me but used to take care of us,” Kim told Newslaundry. “We were so close that we would share all our secrets with each other. Now he has gone from this world leaving just me and my younger sister.”
The began on May 3. Letminthang had been at work at the time.
“When the chaos started, he thought it was normal clashes that would be over soon,” Kim recalled. “Our cousin in the army called him and said he’d better leave home because things may escalate. He also said clashes were happening at Churachandpur, 50-60 km from Imphal, and there was nothing to worry about.”
By 6.30 pm, Letminthang was back in his quarters. That night, violence flared in Imphal after a rumour spread that a Meitei nurse had purportedly been raped and killed in Chudachandpur. but, according to Kim, “Meiteis in Imphal started hunting for Kukis”.
“Mobs gathered in large numbers. They even searched Meitei households and asked if they were hiding any Kukis in their homes,” she told Newslaundry. “Tension was mounting. Until almost 3 am, I was talking to my brother on the phone. He didn’t even eat out of tension. In the early hours, I asked him to take a nap and in the morning, I booked an afternoon flight for him to Guwahati.”
Letminthang’s flight was scheduled to depart at 2.40 pm. But hours before, a mob gathered outside the CPWD quarters. When her brother told her the news, she tried contacting emergency helplines but “nobody was picking up”.
“My cousin in the army went to get him in two escort vehicles,” she said. “But by then, a large mob was at CPWD. My cousin couldn’t get in and my brother couldn’t get out. The three of us talked on a conference call. The crowd was dispersing and I used Google Maps to give my brother directions to reach my cousin’s vehicle.”
But the cousins missed each other, standing in different lanes. It was a “miscommunication”, Kim said, and her brother finally rushed back to his quarters out of fear that the mob would spot him.
Kim spoke to him on the phone.
“He was so scared that he was not able to talk properly,” she said. “He was saying someone had spotted him and they would kill him. The mob was there five or 10 minutes later. My brother feared the crowd would hear him talking on the phone and told me to text him.”
That was their last phone call. Letminthang’s last text message was sent at 2.44 pm.
Later that day, she was told her brother’s body had been found in the CWPD premises and that it would be shifted to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Lamphel.
“Until then, I was hopeful that he was alive. I thought maybe they’d beaten him and not killed him, maybe he went into hiding somewhere,” Kim said. “In the evening when I came to know about his demise, we thought maybe his quarters had been burned. By the next day, we came to know he had been dragged out of his house, brutally assaulted, and was burned alive right inside the CPWD quarters – a government area. How can they enter one of the most secured areas and burn him alive?”
Kim and her sister could not conduct their brother’s last rites. “We can’t go to Imphal even to bury him,” she said. “His body is still in the morgue of RIMS.”
She told Newslaundry that “99 percent” of her brother’s friends had been Meiteis, right from his childhood. “He was more fluent in Manipuri than Kuki language. How can Meitei people kill him?”
Two days after Letminthang’s death, union minister Nirmala Sitharaman had her condolences. But “tweets are not enough when lives are at stake”, Kim said fiercely. “People are getting killed – left, right and centre.”
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.