“It was deserted in the village, and my husband was scared. I asked him to leave for the relief camp, but his father didn’t agree. They were both killed right inside our house… attacked with sharp-edged weapons, and shot in the chest and head… What is the government doing? Is it waiting for all of us to die?”
Asha Yumnam, 29, was informed of her husband and father-in-law’s killing on Saturday morning. The duo was reportedly murdered by suspected Kuki ‘militants’, in the wee hours of the morning while they were asleep at their house in Kwakta Lamkhai village of Bishnupur district.
Kwakta is one of the border villages between Bishnupur and Churachandpur foothills – witnessing intense gunfights between Kukis and Meiteis. The deadlock between the communities has resulted in a perceived bifurcation between the Meitei-dominated valley and the Kuki-dominated hills. Since May 3, when the violence began, more than 180 people have died in the northeastern state, while over 60,000 have been displaced.
Yumnam, who had been residing at her mother’s house in a different area of Kwakta village, had spoken to her husband around 10 pm Friday night. Her husband, 31-year-old Yumnam Prem Kumar, had confided in her about being “scared”, she told Newslaundry as gunshots reverberated at a distance.
Besides Kumar and his father Yumnam Pishak, 73, their neighbour Yumnam Jiten, 54, was also murdered. Jiten lived about 30 metres away from the father-son’s residence. Locals told Newslaundry the three men were asleep when they were attacked at their home.
Surrounded by villagers, Asha Yumnam (centre) mourns the death of her husband at Kwakta Lamkhai village in Bishnupur district on Saturday.
In the early hours of the day, Kuki-dominated Phuoljang village in Churachandpur district also reported two deaths. The intensified gunfight at the frontline claimed the lives of two Kuki ‘volunteers’ – Jangkhomang Haokip, 40, and Lalkholen Guite, 32. While Haokip succumbed to mortar injuries, Guite was shot dead by a sniper. Officials at Churachandpur hospital told Newslaundry that at least six of such self-proclaimed ‘volunteers’ had been treated for gunshot injuries on Saturday.
At the hospital’s casualty ward, Newslaundry saw a few Kuki ‘volunteers’ being treated for different injuries.
Meanwhile, at a relief camp at Churachandpur district, Haokip’s wife Lhingneithem told Newslaundry that she and their five children had fled their house at Mongjang village during the initial days of the violence. She said Haokip worked as a farmer then.
Guite’s family, which has been residing at another relief camp in the district, said their house was located at Khamenlok village of Kangpokpi district. It was burnt down in mid June, after which they took refuge at the camp.
‘Entered house, shot him’
Back at Kwakta Lamkhai village, Jiten’s sister Thokcham Ibetombi, 40, alleged that “Kuki people quietly entered the two houses” of the village and killed the three men. “My brother’s family, including his wife, two daughters and a son, are living at a relief camp. He stayed back at the house to protect it… They shot him in the head.”
Ibetombi questioned why prime minister Narendra Modi was “so silent, despite knowing that people are dying here”.
Thokcham Ibetombi, sister of Yumnam Jiten, one of the three men who were killed at their home at Kwakta Lamkhai village in Bishnupur district on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Asha Yumnam, who sat among other village women, also posed questions to the state and central governments. “It has been more than three months of continued violence in Manipur… Prime minister Modi and chief minister Biren Singh have not uttered a single word on the killings of innocent people in Manipur. What is Narendra Modi doing, is he sleeping?”
Kwakta Lamkhai village – located at close proximity to Kuki-dominated Foljang, Gothal and Khosabung villages – has around eight Meitei houses. But most of these houses are now empty, with their residents living in relief camps.
Pangal villages no more safe
It is significant to note that the village has a majority Muslim population, locally known as Pangals. And despite intensifying clashes between Meiteis and Kukis, the areas housing Pangals, Nepalis, Koms or any other communities unrelated to the Meiteis or Kukis had remained safe until a few weeks back. But over the past weeks, at least eight to nine people belonging to the pangal community at Kwakta Lamkhai sustained bullet injuries in the cross-firing. On Saturday, two Pangal villagers got injured.
One of the Pangal men, Akbar, 33, said: “We heard three gunshots around 2.50 am… Kukis came and killed the three men who were sleeping at their homes.” He added that as villagers went out and surveyed the village, they found the bodies of the Meitei men in the two houses.
He further said that some Meitei men sleep close to Pangal homes to stay safe, but the houses which were attacked were located at the end of the village.
The firing and bombing at Kwakta Lamkhai village particularly intensified on Saturday. As Newslaundry reported from the area, from 7 am to around 1:30 pm, this reporter witnessed continued firing and bombing.