Guwahati: In a significant development in the case of the two missing Manipuri students believed to be killed, a special court in Guwahati has granted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) five-day custody of the four accused individuals. Phijam Hemanjit, 20, and Hijam Linthoingambi, a 17-year-old girl, had mysteriously disappeared on July 6th. Photos, purportedly showing their lifeless bodies, emerged on September 25th, sparking violent protests, primarily led by students.
The CBI, which had registered cases related to these incidents on August 23rd, made four arrests on October 1. The arrested individuals include two men, Paominlun Haokip and S. Malsawm Haokip, as well as two women, Lhingneichong Baitekuki and Tinneilhing Henthang. These accused were presented before the special court in Guwahati for legal proceedings.
The special court, upon reviewing the evidence, has stated that "prima facie" there is sufficient material to warrant the CBI's custody of the accused for a period of five days. The accused will be produced before the court again on October 7th. In addition to this, the court has ordered the district child welfare officer of Kamrup district to ensure the proper care of the two minor daughters of one of the accused individuals. These children were brought to Guwahati along with their parents for safety reasons during the proceedings.
CBI sources confirmed that the agency took meticulous care during the arrest of the accused, deploying an adequate number of female officers to handle the situation. They also ensured that all necessary legal formalities were meticulously completed.
Appreciating the teamwork by the Army, paramilitary forces, CBI, and the state police, Chief Minister of Manipur posted on X (formerly known as Twitter). There, N. BirenSingh said, “I’m pleased to share that some of the main culprits responsible for the abduction and murder of the students have been arrested from Churachandpur. As the saying goes, one may abscond after committing the crime, but they cannot escape the long hands of the law. We are committed to ensuring maximum punishment, including capital punishment, for the heinous crime they have committed.”
But the path to justice may not be smooth. Many have called out the Chief Minister, maintaining that the arrests were made arbitrarily through rash decisions. Kuki Students Organization released a statement against the hasty detainment. According to the body, two captives, namely Malsawm and Paominlun, are not involved in the despicable crime. They do not have links with any militant group. The statement further reads, “They are president and general secretary of KSO Leimata Block respectively.” The council members have been arrested without any solid evidence against them.
Meanwhile, in the tribal-inhabited Churachandpur district, a dawn-to-dusk bandh (shutdown) was called by several Kuki organizations in protest against the arrests of the four individuals. The protestors are not only demanding the release of the detainees but also expressing their dissatisfaction with the arrests.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF), a conglomerate of recognized tribals in Manipur, had also called for an indefinite shutdown in the district, commencing at 10 am on Monday. Their demands include the immediate release of the arrested individuals within 48 hours.
Adding to the disruptions, the Churachandpur-based Joint Students Body (JSB) declared a 12-hour shutdown in the district, effective from 6 am on Monday. Consequently, commercial establishments, government offices, and marketplaces in the district remained shuttered, while the roads lay deserted.
The arrests and subsequent protests have added to the already tense atmosphere in Manipur, which has witnessed heightened ethnic clashes between various tribal communities, resulting in significant casualties. With the community's calls for justice growing louder, both central and state administrations find themselves under increasing pressure to address the situation comprehensively.
Last week, disturbing photos emerged, revealing the tragic fate of 17-year-old Hijam Linthoingambi and 20-year-old Phijam Hemjit, who had vanished on July 6th. These images surfaced on social media shortly after internet services were reinstated in the violence-stricken state of Manipur.
One widely circulated photo depicted the two students seated on the ground, seemingly within a forest setting, with two armed individuals standing in the background. Another heart-wrenching image showed them lifeless on the ground, suggesting that they had been fatally shot.
These poignant photographs were captured on July 8th, merely two days following the mysterious disappearance of the two students, adding to the tragic and deeply distressing nature of this case.
On September 15, Manipur police released figures regarding the people killed, injured, incidents of arson, and weapons looted during the violence that began in May. Inspector General of Police (Operations) IK Muivah stated that, thus far, 175 people have lost their lives in the Manipur violence, 1,108 people have sustained injuries, and 32 individuals remain missing.
The police officer said 5,172 cases of arson have been reported, with miscreants setting houses on fire. 386 religious structures have been vandalized through arson, of which 254 are churches and 132 are temples. Security forces have recovered 1,329 of the 5,668 weapons looted since the onset of the violence. Furthermore, 15,050 rounds of ammunition and 400 bombs have been retrieved.