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No justice, no burial: relatives mount corpse protest in India

The clashes have forced around 35,000 people to flee their homes
The clashes have forced around 35,000 people to flee their homes - Copyright AFP Banaras KHAN
The clashes have forced around 35,000 people to flee their homes - Copyright AFP Banaras KHAN
Bhuvan BAGGA

The stench of death hangs heavy over the morgue at an Indian hospital — and relatives are refusing to bury the rotting corpses in protest at their killings in ethnic violence.

Kamlallian Ype, 35, from the mainly Christian Kuki tribe, was killed fleeing attackers from the majority Meitei people, who are mostly Hindus, said his friend P Hentinglian.

“He was shot in the back and fell down,” the 25-year-old told AFP at the mortuary in Churachandpur. “They approached him and shot him point blank at the forehead. I saw it all.”

Around 60 people have been killed on both sides in the clashes in the hilly northeastern state of Manipur and around 35,000 residents have fled their homes since last week.

The far-flung states of northeast India — sandwiched between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar — have long been a tinderbox of tensions between different ethnic groups.

Now the families of Kukis killed in the latest violence are demanding a separate entity of their own.

Ype’s widow and their four sons want nothing from the Manipur state government and see him as a “martyr for the people… for the tribal community”, said his elder sister Siamting, 39.

“What I really want now is the separation of tribal regions from Manipur, for the Indian government to carve out a separate state for tribals in the region,” she went on.

Another father of four, daily wage labourer Lalthansang Siekzathang, lay among the bodies in the morgue.

“Real justice would be a separate state cut away from Imphal” — the regional capital — “which only promotes one community”, said his widow Jelevi Hmingthangmoi, 30.

Both women insisted their families will not hold funerals for their menfolk until the government agrees to their demands.

“He died defending our land,” said Siamting. “As our demands are not met he is still at the morgue.”

– Mob attacks –

The clashes in Manipur were sparked by a protest about plans to give the Meitei “Scheduled Tribe” status. 

A form of affirmative action to combat structural inequality and discrimination, that classification would give them guaranteed quotas of government jobs and college admissions.

Violence erupted in Imphal and elsewhere, with protestors setting fire to vehicles and buildings. 

According to villagers, Meitei mobs armed with guns and petrol cans then attacked Kuki settlements in the hills.

Hentinglian, 25, said Ype was trying to escape to the paddy fields near his village of Kangvai after it was overwhelmed by a 200-strong mob, who he alleged were accompanied by police commandos.

“The commandos were taking (the) lead holding automatic rifles and some of the Meiteis were taking pistols along with them,” he said.

AFP was unable to independently confirm his account and has sought comment from police authorities in Manipur.

Police in the state have been accused of bias in favour of the majority Meitei community, with Kukis evacuated to the safety of army-run camps accusing them of not defending them, or joining the mobs.

Mary Jones, head of Research and Preservation of Zo Identities, an activist group which promotes tribal cultures, told AFP: “We have more than 15 people who have been killed. There will be no funeral until our demands are met by the Indian government.

“We want the government to give us a separate state, away from Manipur. It would be a tribal land.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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