Manipur (India): CPDM Statement on the Pallel Firing Incident of May 5, 2015 and the Protest
Ref: 20150518 / PR/ Pallel.
ON THE FIRING INCIDENT
1. A firing spree unleased on May 5, 2015 at Pallel Laithok Ching area killed Mr. Moirangthem Gopal (43), son of (late) Gourachandra from Pallel Mayai Leikai and injured four others – Mr. M. Chingkhei (20), son of Rajen from Pallel Mamang Leikai; Mr. Pukhrambam Herojit (30), son of Bharat from Pallel Mayai Leikai; Mr. Sarangthem Turkey (18), son of Biren from Pallel Mayai Leikai; and Mr. Yumnam Bhim (21), son of Naobi from Pallel Bazar.
2. The firing spree was carried out in the dark evening at around 8.30 pm. on the hill route, when devotees were returning after performing Lai Lamthokpa ritual of Meetei Umanglai deities Sekmai Ningthou and Nongpok Ningthou at a hillock (unofficially christened as Pallel Laithok Ching), near Aimol Saitu Village, which is located at the southeast of the Pallel Police Station in Thoubal District, Manipur. It was carried out by a team of youth led by Mr. Augustine Aimol (21), son of Ngamshung Aimol of Aimol Chingnunghut Village and his companions Mr. Franchis (19), son of Munthuilian and Mr. Lalshanglian (20), son of Sumnunglian from Aimol Saitu Village.
3. The firing spree was a vengeance fallout of an altercation. It so happened that when the Lai Lamthokpa ritual was in progress in sacrosanct traditional form; Augustine along with some of his associates, wearing casual clothes and shoes, entered and offered customary token money (known as Sel Thaba) to the Maibis, thereby, desecrating the ritual. Resentment against their action led to a heated altercation. Augustine and his associates ferociously retired from the spot and indiscriminately fired upon the returnee devotees.
ON THE PROTEST, STATE AND POLICE
4. The outraged devotees and Meetei residents of Pallel stormed the police outpost at Pallel. They injured an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police Mr. N. Rajmani and burnt a sentry tower. To prevent further mob the administration promulgated Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) Section 144. However, tension was running high. On the following day, people defied curfew and attempted to storm the police outpost. Some ferocious youth tried to sneak to the nearby Aimol villages to avenge the incident. In the whole melee, police resorted to brutal repression, leading to the casualty of seven agitators.
5. In the meanwhile an organisation christened ‘Joint Action Committee against the Killing of Moirangthem Gopal (JAC) and Other Victims’ was formed to spearhead agitation. The following decisions were taken at the public meeting: (a) to call a general strike on May 6; (b) to impose indefinite blockade on the Aimol road along the National Highway 102; (c) to refuse from accepting the mortal remains of Gopal unless the culprits were arrested, (d) to press on the government to pay compensation of Rs 15 lakh to the family of Gopal and Rs 5 lakh each and medical expenses to the injured persons. The demand of the JAC was directly or indirectly endorsed by several civil society organisations, who visited the area to support the agitation and also to prevent from communal mobbing on a particular community.
6. The agitation exerted pressure on the Aimols in general and in particular the villages that the culprits belonged to. The Aimol Village Authority was asked to immediately hand over the culprits to the police. It was warned that restive agitators would enter into the concerned Aimol villages to pull up the culprits if the police would not make any arrest by May 6. The Aimols were being asked to pay Rs 15 lakh Wakong Sen(customary compromise and compensation money) for having obstructed the Lai Haraoba in the mid-way. Consciously, later on, the amount of Wakong Sen was scaled down and the burden of payment was shifted to the culprits who ‘will be made to do what is within their capacity.’
7. Apparently, the Aimols responded positively with proactive actions. The Aimol Tribe Union, Manipur condemned the incident. It reiterated that the Aimols and Pallel Meeteis had been living cordially and the former had been supporting the Lai Haraoba rituals. The Aimol women organisation christened as Aimol Numeivar demonstrated against the incident; a member made open appeal to the culprits to voluntarily surrender so as to prevent from further hardship being faced by the Aimols. The concerned denizens amongst the Aimols identified the culprits and pressed, if not persuaded them to ensure either voluntarily surrender or schematise arrest.
8. In the tense situation the State and the police, by default, accrued for itself the credit of success in maintaining order and mediation. Their successes were; (a) deployment of police and imposition of curfew prevented potential mob, (b) police claimed the arrest of Augustine on May 6, and the remaining two on May 11, and (c) monetary compensations to the victims were announced, although the exact values and other proposals demanded by the JAC was subjected to further consideration and approval by the Manipur Cabinet. Accordingly, the mortal remain of Gopal was received and cremated by the family on Friday, May 8. When some of the demands of the JAC were not fulfilled, the JAC and Umang Lai Kanba Lup (UKAL) indulged in imposing 48 hours public curfew in Pallel areas from the early morning of Saturday, May 16. The government negotiated with them and the public curfew was cut-short by 24 hours.
ON THE COMMUNAL ANGLE
9. Manipur is a melting pot of various religious or beliefs systems such as Buddhist, Jains, Christian denominations, Hindu sects, Islam, Meetei ‘revivalism’ and etcetera. The Heraka cult among the Zelianrongs and worship of Sanamahi and Umanglai among the Meeteis are considered to be ‘indigenous.’ The ‘indigenous’ have been investing in either revival or protection or promotion to overcome the perceived loss due to conversion into more conventional religious systems that are considered to be non-indigenous.
10. Over the decades there have been organised efforts amongst the Meeteis to promote the worship of Umanglais, correctly or incorrectly referred to as the ancestral sylvan deities. The abodes of the Umanglais are located either within the vicinity of Meetei neighbourhood known as khun or in the far flung forests and on the hillocks. An abode of the Umanglai deities Sekmai Ningthou and Nongpok Ningthou is located at the Pallel Laithok Ching near the clusters of Aimol villages. The abode have been marked by annual gathering of devotees that performed pompous ceremonial dances and rituals that lasted for about a week. The LaiLamthokpa is an integral ritual marked by a procession of the devotees and celebration in a ‘sacred’ spot outside the abode where the temple stands.
11. The Aimols, predominantly Christians by faith, belong to one of the numerically minority scheduled tribes. Generally seen by the Meeteis under the rubric ‘hao’, which is a term that corresponded to the ‘tribes’; their affiliation with either the Kukis or the Nagas remain a matter of dispute as there are many who wanted to maintain a distinct Aimol identity. However, they have been seen as either Kuki or Naga depending on the choice of the interpreter. They constitute the dominant community and enjoy strategic control in and around the Pallel Laithok Ching areas. In this scenario, when Augustine and his associates desecrated the ritual and unleashed the firing spree; the otherness of the culprits in terms of religious and community affiliations added to the negative perception about ‘tribal politics’ and many Meeteis subscribed to the communal interpretation of their actions.
12. Several questions have been raised. Whereas the religiosity and community composition of the devotees were distinctively marked by otherness; were there display of communal hatred in the altercation and the actions of the culprits? At the very outset, why the culprits should desecrate the rituals? Will they do the same in the church and in the presence of their ‘community’ elders? Following the abusive verbal altercation, if those who resented their actions happened to be from their own community and their church elders, will they indulge in indiscriminate firing on the crowd? Were the culprits instigated by some communal forces that wanted the Meeteis to retaliate communally; so that the targeted Aimols in search of security and revenge become loyal to them?
13. Communal interpretation of incident became viral. It reinforced to the communal emotions and hurt the ‘pride’ of many Meeteis who perceived that their community have been targeted times and again by the ‘tribal’, this time by the Aimlos simply because they have been too soft towards the tribes to avoid communal conflict. Many jumped into the nasty conclusion that there should be a befitting response to teach the ‘communal forces’ a lesson. The religious organisation christened as the Umanglai Kanba Apunba Lup (UKAL), construed a homogenous picture of the Meeteis and interpreted the incident as a ‘direct challenge to the [Meetei] community’s faith and its tradition.’ According to the news, the convenor of UKAL declared that all religious organizations with the support of the people were prepared to launch agitation against the brutal attack. The agitation exerted pressure upon the Aimols in general and the concerned villages in particular to held responsible for the crime and surrender the culprits.
14. The matter is not to be ended after the punishment of the culprits and extraction of compensations. There is the looming tendency towards communal anchoring of collective memory centred on the idea of community victimhood; which have to be objectively crafted through construction of mnemonic artefacts and commemorations. During the cremation of Gopal, the royal palace and UKAL honoured Gopal with the title Umanglai-gi Athoiba Mapari (Renowned Son of Umanglai). The UKAL appealed to those who were currently celebrating Lai Haraoba festival to observe a 10-minute silence as a mark of tribute to Gopal. It announced to commence annual observance of the firing incident from the following year. This announcement raises a fundamental question. If Gopal had to become a mnemonic means of recollecting communal assault; it remains questionable as to what extent the objectivity and structural appearance of annual observance may contribute towards communal harmony. Will it contribute to promoting durable secularism and cordial status quo amongst communities or will it simply add to sharpening some kind of hatred projections against the ‘other?’ The future is yet to come.
OUR MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE
15. We condemn the firing spree unleashed on May 5, 2015 by a team of youth comprising Augustine, Franchis and Lalshanglian.
16. We condole the death of Moirangthem Gopal, share the grievances of his family and other victims of the incident, and acknowledge the aggrieved sentiments of the concerned devotees, immediate victim families and their near ones. The irreparable loss to the families and dear ones of Gopal can never be compensated. Only tolerance, forgiveness and conscious efforts towards rooting out criminality in any form can build a peaceful society. May hope should be the strength to overcome the pain of the irreparable loss.
17. We share the grievances of the families of Augustine, Franchis and Lalshanglian who have been compelled by the situation to bear the burden of insult, humiliation and all forms of social and legal pressures because of the crimes committed by these youth whose have ruined themselves to a considerable scale. May they learn from the mistakes, reborn themselves as respectable citizen and return home safely.
18. We express resentment to the communal interpretation of the firing spree and any attempted communal targeting of a particular community or village. Criminals exist in every society and community; may we isolate them from the community and initiate collective thrives against the criminals.
19. We express solidarity to the conscious efforts of progressive organisations and individuals in raising the demand for justice and defending inter-community peaceful co-existence.
20. We appeal to the people to live and grow together towards a collective brighter future.
Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur)
May 18, 2015.