Life in Manipur came to a halt on Monday due to the 24-hour shutdown call issued by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) on Sunday night. The JAC called for the shutdown in protest of the government’s refusal to meet their demands for seeking justice for social activist Athuan Abonmai. Several Manipur civil society organisations and student groups took to the streets to demand justice in the Athuan Abonmai murder case. In solidarity with the JAC, representatives from 16 organisations had also conducted a joint sit-in protest on September 27 at the community hall of Keisampat Leimajam Leikai in Imphal.
Former president and advisor of Zeliangrong Baudi (Assam, Manipur, Nagaland) Athuan Abonmai was abducted from Pologround, Tamenglong headquarters on September 22, right under the nose of large security forces deployed in the area for a function. On that day, the chief minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh and other cabinet ministers were also in attendance at the function. Abonmai was a strong opponent of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM). He had run unsuccessfully in a couple of state elections from the Tamei assembly constituency. Speaking at various platforms across Manipur, he also championed peaceful coexistence and the unity of the state.
Abonmai was found dead on September 22, along the Tamenglong-Tamei road after being shot in the head by two armed miscreants. He was abducted and killed 28 kms from the function in Tamenglong district. According to the police, Abonmai’s body had marks such as a deep cut on his head, which is proof that he was tortured before being murdered. A video of his abduction in the presence of heavy police and paramilitary deployment surfaced online, two days after the shocking assassination, as per East Mojo. The viral video shows security personnel acting as mute spectators, watching without interfering, even as Abonmai resisted. Security personnel stationed nearby saw him being thrown into a SUV in front of them. His son, Arai Abonmai filed a report at the Lamphel police station shortly after the abduction, alleging that his father was abducted by NSCN-IM cadres from Pologround around 11:30 am. The Manipur government has suspended at least 14 police personnel for “negligence of duty”.
The JAC has demanded a high-level inquiry by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) besides immediate suspension of DC Armstrong Pame and SP Mohurle Sandip Gopaldas of Tamenglong district. The matter was turned over to the NIA on September 26 after the state’s home department wrote to the central Ministry of Home Affairs on September 25 that the crime was carried out by NSCN-IM members and predicted tension in the border states.
Two suspects were arrested in connection with Abonmai’s death on September 28. Ponthalung Panmei, 47, and Lanchapou Bosco Gonmei, 48, who live in Konthoujam Maning Tribal Colony and Langol Laimanai, respectively, have been identified as the suspects. The accused were produced before the CJM Imphal West Judge and remanded to judicial custody for nine days while further investigation was conducted. In the vicinity of Abonmai’s body, the police also recovered a heavy sledge hammer, which they suspect was the murder weapon.
The Hindu reported that people from all sections supported the shutdown and stayed indoors. In the valley, non-tribal organisations have supported all JAC campaigns, noting that Abonmai had worked for the unity and coexistence of its people in the hills and valley.
A meeting of the JAC and the CM was held at the latter’s residence on Sunday. The JAC, which was shifted from Tamenglong after the incident, stuck to its charter of demands, including the suspension of the DC and SP. JAC members said the chief minister was not informed in time by the Tamenglong DC and SP of Athuan Abonmai’s abduction on September 22. According to the JAC, this alone is enough to suspect collusion and conspiracy on the part of DC and SP, which warrants their immediate suspension or termination. As the committee asserts, the state government is well aware of the suspected group behind the horrific crime, and hence, it is up to them to tackle the situation effectively.
The JAC has also demanded the replacement of IG (Intelligence) Radhashyam Singh, chairman of the inquiry committee, alleging that his negligence, inefficiency and ineffectiveness led to the abduction and subsequent killing of Athuan Abonmai. The Manipur Congress had also demanded that the DC and SP of the district be sacked within 24 hours. Additionally, they demanded that the matter be investigated by a sitting member of the High Court. Moreover, they questioned the DGP of Manipur as to why no response was received by the Lamphel Police Station to the FIR lodged by Abonmai’s son.
Meanwhile, Machenluang village residents said they won’t claim the body of Athuan Abonmai until the government captures and punishes the kidnappers and assassins. According to the villagers, the state government was responsible for the assassination since miscreants abducted a civilian amid tight security for the chief minister’s visit.