UCA News
Contribute

India's Manipur state releases riot victims' bodies

Funerals of mostly Christian tribal people were delayed because of opposition from Meitei Hindus
Relatives sitting on the back of vehicles mourn next to the coffin of their loved ones during the funeral for 13 people killed in a gunfight between armed groups in India's Northeastern Manipur state, at Andro Khanarok, Imphal East, on December 5, 2023, amid ongoing ethnic violence in the state

Relatives sitting on the back of vehicles mourn next to the coffin of their loved ones during the funeral for 13 people killed in a gunfight between armed groups in India's Northeastern Manipur state, at Andro Khanarok, Imphal East, on December 5, 2023, amid ongoing ethnic violence in the state. (Photo by AFP)

Published: December 15, 2023 10:37 AM GMT
Updated: December 15, 2023 10:40 AM GMT

The government in strife-torn Manipur state has released the bodies of 64 victims of ethnic violence, mostly Christians, eight months after riots broke out in India's northeastern region. 

Authorities airlifted 60 bodies of indigenous Kukis preserved in two morgues in the state capital Imphal on Dec. 14. The bodies were taken to the tribal-dominated Churachandpur and Kangpokpi districts and given to families to help them conduct last rites. 

Two helicopters made several forays to transport the bodies from the state capital Imphal to the Kuki-dominated districts as authorities feared transporting them by road could fuel ongoing tensions and sporadic violence in the area, a local Church leader said.

Four other bodies released were of Meiteis, from the majority Hindu community, kept in a hospital mortuary in Churachandpur district. Their bodies were taken to Imphal, and given to family members for cremation.

The government action followed a direction from India’s Supreme Court to dispose of 175 bodies preserved in mortuaries, all victims of the ethnic violence.

The court was hearing multiple petitions filed by indigenous people. The petitioners told the court on Nov. 28 that the government refused to release the bodies and it prevented them from performing the last rites for their dead,  they said.

"Bodies were kept in mortuaries for months following disputes over burial grounds"

The state government also informed the court that some bodies were unidentified and unclaimed. The court directed the state to dispose of such bodies “in a dignified way.”

As funeral burial rites for 19 Kuki Christians were scheduled for Dec. 15 in Kangpokpi district, a powerful tribal group — the Committee on Tribal Unity — called for a total shutdown in the district purportedly to help the funerals go ahead peacefully.

The funeral dates for 41 bodies in Churachandpur have not yet been announced, local sources said.

The bodies were kept in mortuaries for months following disputes over burial grounds between the warring groups — the Christian-majority Kukui tribal people and the Hindu-majority Meitei people.

The Meiteis opposed Kukis burying their dead bodies in the Imphal area, leading to tension and litigation. 

“We do not have any clear details where the bodies will be buried as in many cases their churches have been destroyed,” a Church leader told UCA News on Dec. 15.

"Violence escalated and continued for more than three months"

The violence broke out on May 3 between Kuki and Meitei people over a demand seeking tribal status for the Meitei people.

This status helps them avail of government social welfare benefits meant for tribal people such as reservation of seats in government jobs and educational institutions.

Violence escalated and continued for more than three months, officially claiming 175 lives. Unofficial estimates say at least 200 people, mostly Kuki Christians, have been killed and over 50,000 have been displaced.

Thousands of Kuki people continue living in state-run relief camps as their homes were burnt down.

They also fear existing tensions could escalate if they try to go back to their villages and rebuild the homes, the Church leader said.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia