Two 17-year-old students went missing near an area dominated by another community. They are feared dead but can’t trace their bodies, say cops.
A kidnapping complaint against the boy
Phijam Hemajit Singh had picked up his friend Laungbi Linthoingambi Hijam on his sports bike from a coaching institute at Keishampat Mutum Liekai in Imphal around 8 am on July 6. Hemajit’s last phone location was traced to a spot around 10 km from the coaching institute, according to police. They were last seen together on a motorycle headed towards the adjoining districts of Bishnupur and Churachandpur.
In a “detailed report” on Tuesday, investigating officer Sanajobi Devi wrote that the boy was suspected to have been killed on July 8 and the girl on July 11. The students were allegedly buried the next day by “Kuki militants/miscreants”, the police suspect. The report said the duo were suspectedly “forced into a jeep and taken into custody by a bunch of Kuki militants” at Laimaton on the border of Kangpokpi and Bishnupur under the jurisdiction of Loktak project police station.
However, Ingoucha Singh, the officer in charge of Imphal West police station, said the police are waiting for verification and will seek the help of central forces to search for the bodies.
Linthoingambi’s family initially filed a kidnapping complaint at Imphal West police station against the boy, but the families soon realised that both the minors were in trouble. Hemajit’s family then approached the Laimphel police, but the probe was subsequently handed over to Imphal West police station.
Linthoingambi’s father Hijam Kulajit Singh told Newslaundry that his daughter last spoke to her mother around 10 am on July 6. “She was in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden, her phone went off,” Singh said, sitting with a portrait of his daughter.
According to her family, Linthoingambi had wanted to be a doctor and met Hemajit during maths tuition in class 11.
“Her mother is in a very bad state. She cries all the time and doesn’t eat properly. She is semiconscious,” said Bimla Devi, a relative. “Both of them were very young. As per police, the last location of their phone was Kwakta Sevala, which is close to Kuki areas.”
Amid the ongoing ethnic violence, Meities and Kukis have marked their geographical boundaries for safety. Thousands of unresolved zero FIRs indicate that even police officials from the two communities do not enter areas dominated by the other.
‘Can’t go to the other area’
“We tried searching for him everywhere, spoke to his friends, but couldn’t find him. My mother is not keeping well…She has not eaten properly. His last location cannot be visited because it’s a red line as that side is dominated by Kukis. Police said that because of the ongoing conflict, the area cannot be visited by any Meitei,” said Hemajit’s brother Chetanjit.
Hemajit’s mother Memcha Devi said that when her son left home on the morning of July 6, he said he was “going to play football”. “When I called him after a few hours, his phone was switched off.”
Hemajit loved football, biking and gyming, said his family, pointing to his bed with his folded clothes atop.
“Police said that if they go to that area in order to find the children, then it will be a war,” said Hemajit’s father Ibungobi Singh. “A day later, on July 7, someone inserted a new SIM card in his phone…The location of that number was Lamden…which borders Kuki-dominated areas.”
Hemajit’s sister-in-law Brajeshwari Devi said the family has approached the police, MLAs and even the Manipur security adviser. “We don’t know whether our brother is alive or dead. We want to go there and search for him but we can’t because of the ongoing enmity between Meiteis and Kukis…We want to appeal to all the authorities that even if our brother is dead, they should at least return his body.”
Meanwhile, the Editors Guild is set to form a fact-finding committee to look into the media coverage of the Manipur conflict, especially by the local press. The guild said it has also received complaints from the armed forces over “misreporting” by the local press. The team will visit the northeastern state in the first week of August.
The committee will “document the way the media has covered” the conflict, Anant Nath, general secretary of the guild, told Newslaundry.
Photographs by Priyali Dhingra.