Family of dead Manipuri girl blames state negligence as photographs emerge

There have been a series of violent episodes over ethnic divisions in Manipur

Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam left her home on July 6 but never returned. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

The family of a girl who was kidnapped and killed with her friend in India’s north-east state of Manipur have blamed the government for her death, after photos emerged on social media two months after the two went missing.

Hijam Linthoingambi, 17, who is from the Hindu Meitei community, had gone for tutorials on July 6 and was later seen on surveillance cameras with a male friend, Phijam Hemanjit, 20, on his motorcycle.

They were allegedly kidnapped and killed by members of the rival Kuki community, although their bodies have yet to be found.

More than 150 people have been killed in the remote state since armed clashes broke out in May between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and the mainly Christian Kuki community.

On Monday, after internet services were resumed in the state, images of the bodies of the two missing people appeared on social media, sending shockwaves through the valley.

In one picture, the girl, wearing a white T-shirt and the boy in a checked shirt, are sitting next to each other in an outdoor forested area.

The girl is wearing a mask and looking into the camera while the boy is looking away from the camera. Two men carrying arms can be seen in the background.

A second picture shows their bodies in a similar outdoor space.

Hijam Shantikumar, Linthoingambi’s paternal uncle, said that her mother, who was hoping for her daughter to return, had to be shown the images to convince her that she was dead.

“She was in disbelief,” Mr Shantikumar told The National. "She is devastated and passes out every few minutes. She was desperately waiting for any news of her safety, of her return. We had to show her the images that she will not return, ever."

The family is accusing the government for its failure to control the violence that has continued for five months.

Manipur, bordering Myanmar, is ruled by the BJP, the party that also runs the federal government.

Mr Shivakumar said that they met state Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Tuesday and demanded that the bodies be handed over to the families within a week.

“The government has totally failed," Mr Shivakumar said. "There is zero governance here. For the last three months, they suspended the internet. If there was no internet, we would never have known about their deaths.”

The state government has promised "swift and decisive" action and roped in federal investigating agency the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“I want to assure the people of the state that both the state and central government are closely working together to nab the perpetrators,” Mr Singh said on X, formerly Twitter.

At a protest on Tuesday in the state capital Imphal, thousands of students staged a demonstration seeking justice.

At least 45 protesters were injured after they clashed with armed forces who lobbed tear gas shells and fired rubber pellets.

The internet mobile services have again been cut until October 1 to prevent spread of misinformation and rumours.

India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, who is in the US, said at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday that the region had a “long history” of tensions and that his government’s efforts were focused on “finding a way” to bring about a return to normality.

Manipur is like a football stadium – an oval, highly fertile area surrounded by hills. It shares a 390km border with Myanmar.

About 40 per cent of the state's population, mostly tribal people such as the Kukis, have traditionally inhabited the hilly areas that make up 90 per cent of the land.

The Meiteis, who account for more than half of the population, dominate the valley areas that, although only 10 per cent of the land area, are highly fertile.

Meiteis have historically controlled both political and economic power. This power imbalance is another trigger point for the Kukis for the distrust in the majority community.

A video of two tribal women being stripped, assaulted and paraded sparked outrage across India after it appeared on social media in July.

Updated: September 27, 2023, 10:14 AM