FIR reveals horrific killing of Manipur youth

The Kuki-Zo youth, who was arrested for sharing a post on CM Biren Singh, was being taken from court to jail on May 4, when a mob of around 800 men and women intercepted the police vehicle, dragged him out and beat him to death; NHRC records case as custodial death, issues notices

July 23, 2023 09:06 pm | Updated July 24, 2023 06:39 am IST - New Delhi

Manipur mob violence victim Hanglalmuan Vaiphei. Photo: Special Arrangement 

Manipur mob violence victim Hanglalmuan Vaiphei. Photo: Special Arrangement 

As armed mobs of men and women were looting police armouries across Imphal in Manipur early May, one of the first victims of the ethnic conflict was a 21-year-old undergraduate student from Churachandpur district, who was arrested for sharing a social media post against CM N. Biren Singh.

According to the FIR in the case, seen by The Hindu, the police were escorting 21-year-old Hanglalmuan Vaiphei from court to the Sajiwa Jail on May 4, when they were stopped by a mob in the Porompat area. The armed mob robbed the police of their weapons and beat Vaiphei to death as the police “escaped in different directions to save themselves”.

This was among the first instances of brutality in Manipur’s ongoing ethnic conflict, details of some of which are surfacing only now. The FIR was registered under sections of rioting and murder at the Porompat police station on May 4.

In two days of registering the FIR, the Superintendent of Police concerned sent a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), marking it as a “custodial death”. The NHRC has since issued notices to the State government in the case and flagged it with the State Human Rights Commission.

Two FIRs in 12 hours for Facebook post

Churachandpur district was on edge after April 27, when Kuki-Zomi groups had, in a protest against CM Singh, burnt down a gym he was supposed to inaugurate. Amidst this, Vaiphei, a B.A. (Geography) student at Churachandpur College, had come across a viral post on social media by a user called “Bon Lee”, blaming Meitei politicians, including CM Singh, for the problems faced by Kuki-Zo people. 

He then reposted this on his Facebook and later deleted it in 24 hours, those who knew him said. However, police were quick to knock on his door on April 30, according to his family.

It has now been revealed that the case Mr. Vaiphei was arrested in was in fact registered against “Bon Lee”. The post alleged that political leaders of the Meitei community, purportedly with the support of the CM, were fuelling poppy cultivation in the hills and blaming tribals for it in order to “grab tribal lands”. The post also painted the Meitei community as “racist” and “anti-India”, claiming they were the source of Manipur’s problems.

The moment Mr. Vaiphei was granted bail in this case on May 3, the police formally arrested him in an identical case registered for the same social media post at the Imphal police station, his family said.

While the first FIR, registered at 10 p.m. on April 30, claimed that “Bon Lee” had made the post at 9:50 p.m. the same day, this one said the post was made at 9:50 a.m.

Mob blocks road, pulls him out

The FIR in Vaiphei’s murder case was registered on the complaint of Sub-Inspector L. Sanjeeva Singh of the Imphal police station, who was investigating Vaiphei and was escorting him from court to jail on May 4. While the Sub-Inspector was in his personal vehicle, a team of policemen were accompanying Vaiphei in a police vehicle.  

When they reached the Popular High School at the heart of Porompat, they noticed a mob of around 800 men and women checking all vehicles along Jail Road. They called the district SP Control Room for back-up, according to Sub-Inspector Sanjeeva Singh’s complaint on the incident.

They could not return because another mob had blocked the way back and so they proceeded. The mob then stole the weapons and ammunition of the police personnel, held them at gunpoint and pulled Vaiphei out of the vehicle, Mr. Sanjeeva Singh said, adding that the mob then beat him and other personnel, as well as Vaiphei. He said that they were armed with iron rods, sticks and licensed rifles. 

“We were assaulted when we tried to fight them off to safeguard the accused from the unruly mob,” the Sub-Inspector said, adding that he and his colleagues were injured in the process and that their vehicles were also damaged. 

As the mob continued beating Vaiphei and the personnel, Mr. Sanjeeva Singh got into his personal vehicle, which was “badly damaged”. His colleagues got into their police vehicle, and drove off in separate directions, leaving Vaiphei with the mob. 

Seven hours later that day around 10:30 p.m., while filing his complaint about the incident, Mr. Singh wrote, “It may be pertinent to state that the body of the accused person namely Hanglalmuan Vaiphei remained at the custody of the unruly mob.”

Kin in dark about body

Vaiphei’s family members, who are in Churachandpur’s Thingkangphai Zomi Bethel, said that they do not know where his body is. “We were told by the police that his body was kept at Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal. But we are not in a position to even think of going to Imphal,” his mother told The Hindu over the phone as a relative translated. 

Mr. Vaiphei’s father had on May 18 sent a complaint to the Churachandpur Police, alleging that his son had died because of the negligence and conspiracy of the Sub-Inspector and that they suspected his version of events was not accurate. Vaiphei is survived by his parents, a sister (19) and brother (17), none of whom saw Vaiphei after he was taken away by police on that fateful day. 

Also read | Kuki women students of Manipur University recount horror of targeted attack by mob

Neither the Imphal West district SP, under whose jurisdiction the Imphal police station falls, or the officer-in-charge of the station responded to calls from The Hindu. The SP of Imphal East district, where Vaiphei’s murder case was registered, also did not respond to calls. The Imphal West district SP is among those to have received NHRC notices in the case.

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