Hundreds of school and college students protested in the Imphal Valley on Tuesday over the killing of two students who were missing since July 6 in Manipur.
Photographs featuring the two murdered Meitei students, Phijam Hemjit, 20, and Hijam Linthoingambi, 17, surfaced on social media on Tuesday, two days after mobile Internet services were completely restored on Saturday — 143 days after they were suspended on May 3.
In one of the photographs, the two students are seen sitting next to each other with two armed men standing at a distance behind them. In another photo, the students are seen lying on the ground.
Tuesday's protest prompted the government to suspend mobile Internet services again across the state till October 1, pushing Manipur back to the communication freeze that existed between May 3 and September 23.
The state education department announced the closure of all schools on Wednesday and Friday in view of the prevailing law-and-order situation in the state. Thursday had already been declared a holiday because of Milad-un-Nabi.
On Tuesday night, protests by youths continued in some localities of Imphal West and Imphal East districts with security forces firing tear gas shells to disperse them. Some protesters made a fresh attempt to march to chief minister and BJP leader N. Biren Singh’s bungalow at Babupara in Imphal West but were thwarted by security forces, an Imphal resident said.
Singh tweeted that the CBI director, along with a “specialised team”, would arrive in Imphal on a special flight on Wednesday morning to “expedite this crucial investigation”.
The chief minister said he was in constant touch with Union home minister Amit Shah to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Earlier, 24 MLAs from the valley had formally requested him to direct the CBI to take “expeditious action” to book those involved in the murder of the two youths.
During the day, protesting students in uniform lined the streets or marched on one side of the road in several areas of Imphal city, raising slogans seeking justice for the murdered youths.
Standoffs crystallised with security personnel at several places when the forces tried to turn the protesters away. A group of students was stopped around 100 metres from the chief minister’s residence. In one of the videos doing the rounds, a couple of students were seen throwing stones at security forces.
Sources said the police resorted to bursting tear gas shells and smoke bombs, leaving around 31 students injured, most of whom were rushed to Raj Medicity, a private hospital in Imphal.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted on Tuesday: “More shocking news from Manipur. Children are the most vulnerable victims of ethnic violence. It is our duty to do all we can to protect them. The horrific crimes being committed in Manipur are beyond words, yet they are being allowed to continue unabated. The central government should be ashamed of its inaction.”
Students have been among the worst hit in the ongoing strife. According to government figures, over 12,000 school students have been affected by the unrest. Relief camps in Bishnupur and Kangpokpi districts shelter half of them while over 1,500 have taken refuge in neighbouring Mizoram.
At one of the protest sites, the students were seen with a banner that said “Protest against the brutal killing of two innocent students by Kuki terrorists”.
The banner also said “We want justice” and “Down with Kuki terrorism”, reflecting the deep divide between the Kuki and Meitei communities. The conflict has so far claimed 176 lives and displaced over 67,000 people.
A state government report submitted in the Supreme Court had hinted at the hand of armed Kuki miscreants in the kidnapping of the two students.
A student leader said pupils from the valley districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal, Kakching and Bishnupur staged the protest called by six leading student organisations “against the abduction, torture and subsequent killing of the two students”. College students from Imphal East, Imphal West and Bishnupur districts participated in the protest, which started around 11am.
The Meitei people are in majority in the valley districts while the Kuki and Naga communities mostly live in the hill districts which are also home to various other tribes.
As the photographs of the students circulated on social media, the chief minister’s secretariat issued a media release on Monday night, saying the case had already been handed over to the CBI “as per the wishes of the people of the state”.
“The state police, in collaboration with the central security agencies, are actively investigating the case to determine the circumstances surrounding their disappearance and to identify the perpetrators who murdered the two students. The security forces have also started the search operation to nab the perpetrators,” the release said.
The government sought to assure “the public that swift and decisive action will be taken against all those involved in the kidnapping and killing of Phijam Hemjit and Hijam Linthoingambi” and urged the people “to exercise restraint and let the authorities handle the investigation”.