Everyday before going to sleep, a bunch of people of Churachandpur village gather around the morgue and pay respect to the dead bodies. The dead bodies – 160 days old – are highly decomposed and stinky. The villagers don’t feel bad coming to visit the blemished corpse daily. In fact they come with great honour, as their fellow mates have martyred their lives for the people of the village.
Sadly, being a distant part of land not many Indians identify with; this spine-freezing story of their struggle died in indifference. The corpses symbolise the protest of the residents of Manipur held on August 31 and September 1,2015, against the three bills passed by the state government of Manipur.
The story of the ILP (Inner Line Permit) protest is thrilling. In August, the Manipur government had passed three bills to make peace with the pro-ILP stir, which began in June and was led by people from Imphal valley to restrict outsiders from entering the state without permission. The Churachandpur protest was a counter to the demand by the Meitei people to implement ILP in the state.
The tribal population of the state, who are shielded by the 6th schedule on account of being tribal, believe that the Meitei dominated “communal” Manipur government is conspiring to “grab tribal land”. Tribal land in the state is governed by customary law and can only be sold to another tribal. The fear – and the cause of this violence — is that the land will be taken away by the state, that the custodian’s will be made redundant, and that the tribal population would be marginalised further.
Churachandpur is a district located in the south-western corner of the Indian state of Manipur. It is 200 kms south to Imphal, the capital of Manipur. It is where the nine tribes of people were killed (allegedly) in the police firing when voicing against the injustice . The bills passed are seen as ‘anti-tribal’ in the state’s tribal hill areas. So to counter this, people of Churachandpur refused to bury the dead people, to showcase that people are dead for some good deads.
Almost six months are over but the mourns for the martyrs are still heard. They have been accorded the status of the martyrs. Everyday, people would meet together outside the funeral chapel, where six symbolic coffins are placed under a tent. They light candles, sing hymns, shout slogans and pray to God for the central government to intervene.
“On other days we used to think about our daily chores. Now, when it strikes 10, we leave for the morgue. We sit there, tears follow and we look at where they (the bodies) are. It’s very difficult,” says 58-year-old Vunching, mother of Thangzalian Phaipi, 33-year-old school van driver who was killed in the protests.
At first, there were no cold storage in the morgue but soon the local people installed three air conditioners there. Each day they would bring 16 blocks of ice from Moirang, a town 30 kms away from Churachandpur, and place them in the morgue to bring down the temperature. This went on for 100 days during which time, three men took care of the bodies. Fitting the rigid and bloated bodies into coffins was a tough task. And then there was the pungent smell mixed with a tinge of sickening sweetness smell. Locally-grown ash gourd and lemon grass were used to neutralise the odour, but that wasn’t enough.
“We had to seal the coffins after a month. The body had started decomposing excessively, with body fluids oozing out and leaking from the coffins. We wrapped the coffins with aluminium foil to be sure,” says Thangzamuan.
Later, state sent a cold storage well after the bodies had decomposed and were falling apart.
The worst part is that the youngest among the dead was an 11-year-old boy. What harm could he have done, whom could he threaten? Now, he lives on in eyes of his mother and in the protests of those who are left behind.