‘If you ask me a question, I have a dream. Yes, for a society where there is no exploitation; subjection, domination and suppression.’
In Manipur (India)1 the brutal murder of Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) Dr. Thingnam Kishan and his associates, driver Aribam Rajen and mandal Yumnam Token, on 17 February 2009 by the cadres of National Socialist Council of Nagalim – Isaac Muivah faction (NSCN-IM) had sparked off widespread protest paralysing normal functioning of administration for several days. Unequivocal protest slogans demanding punishment of the murderers were raised by civil societies, underground parties, overground political parties and trade unions cutting across community and organisational boundaries. The Government of Manipur, besides its attempt to appease the families of the victims with the compensation game2 had mechanised brutal tactics to suppress protest, e.g., imposing of curfew, baton charge, firing of rubber bullets, blasting of mock bombs and so on.3 The present article explores the character of the murder and questions the fundamental issue lying ahead of politics in Manipur.
The death path
On the morning of 13 February 2009, Kishan left his home in Imphal District for Ukhrul District, to attend a meeting called by the Deputy Commissioner of Ukhrul District Pankaj Kumar Pal. After the proposed meeting he was supposed to reach his office at Kasom Khullen in Ukhrul through the Lumbui Road as the Work’s Minister of Manipur would be visiting the area on 14 February. He had planned to return to his home on 14 February.4 However, Kishan did not visit his office at Kasom Khullen on 14 February5 nor could he return to his home alive.
A conspiracy to abduct and murder Kishan had been well laid by the time he had reached the DC Office. When the meeting was going on with the DC six cadres of the NSCN-IM, armed with guns, were waiting in a Bolero vehicle that was parked near the DC Office. At around the noon after the meeting, when Kishan and his five associates were driving for Kasom Khullen, the Bolero overtook the vehicle of Kishan near St. Thomas School and abducted them at gun point near the Ukhrul Gate at Hungdung. They were halted for the night at the residence of Wungmasho, former headman of Langdang Village situated between Ukhrul and Siroy. There the cadres kept out of sight Kishan’s vehicle after removing the number plates and official beacon. On the following day, three associates of Kishan namely peon Kapangkhui Zimik, village level social worker S. Ramthing and Extension Officer in-charge R.S. Ramsing6 were freed. Kishan, Rajen and Token7 were detained, bundled into the Bolero along with three armed cadres and driven on the hilly tract towards Seikhor Village (Ukhrul west) on the old Imphal-Ukhrul Road. They spent the nights of 14 and 15 February at the residence of one Th. Zimik, a village secretary of Seikhor Village. The following day, i.e., 16 February, when they passed through Tuinem and reached at Ngaingu junction, one of the armed cadres stayed back.
In the meanwhile, on the morning of 16 February 2009 one Mr. Roland, who was a PA of Chingai SDO, informed Kishan’s family over the phone that Kishan was in the custody of NSCN-IM in good health. The same day one Mr. Peter, a worker of Wungnaoshang Keishing who had been an MLA of Phungyar Assembly Constituency from Khasom Khullen came to Kishan’s house and shared the same information. He assured to Kishan’s wife that Kishan would be released safely and that police should not be informed about the matter. One Mr. Victor, a village secretary of Kasom Khullen, told the same story, shared the same view and assured that Kishan would be released soon after a negotiation with the NSCN-IM. On the other side the abductors and the captives proceeded from Ngaingu Junction towards Senapati Phaibung Road and reached at Senapati District after midnight. The vehicle and the driver were left near a stone crushing centre and the rest of them proceeded towards Taphou Kuki Village. In the wee hour of the morning of 17 February Kishan and his associates were blindfolded, their hands were tied at their backs, hacked with spade and their heads were smashed with rock. The mortal remains were abandoned under the Lukhrabi Bridge near Taphou Kuki Village along the National Highway number 39. The two armed cadres then returned with the vehicle to Ukhrul on the same route that they had taken during their onward journey.
Who were the murderers?
Pankaj Kumar Pal, the then DC of Ukhrul District
Kishan was indifferent to the alleged unparliamentary character of Pankaj Kumar Pal towards him on official matters. Pankaj is said to have nexus with cadres of NSCN-IM. There was difference of opinion between Kishan and the DC when the latter had insisted that Kishan enlist a sizable number of bogus names in the electoral rolls and issue additional job cards against such names. What was the material interest of the DC on this matter?
Kishan was abducted with his associates after attending a meeting convened by the DC at his office on 13 February to discuss about preparation for a proposed visit of Works Minister on 14 February and in connection with implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the district. Why did the DC take immediate leave after the meeting?
On 13 February, at around 13.17 hours one David Kashungnao, a SDC in the office of the DC had informed Kishan’s wife over the phone that the DC had seen Kishan on the way to Siroy-Chingai Road. According to NSCN-IM’s statement the vehicle was driven by Sergeant Major Ashang of the NSCN-IM and he was more or less known to the DC.8 Why didn’t the DC inform the police or the higher authorities on this matter?
David was directed by the DC to call back Kishan for an urgent matter. For that reason David had called up Kishan’s wife to ask for either Kishan’s BSNL mobile number since Aircel mobile number might not work or the number of Kishan’s driver. Why didn’t the DC call back to Kishan’s wife in the following days to inquire about the absence of Kishan from official duty?
When the wife of Kishan suspected and enquired about the whereabouts of her husband, the DC hinted to her that her husband could be in the hand of NSCN. However, the DC or any of the authority of the office had neither lodged any complaint immediately with the police nor informed the matter to the higher authorities. On the contrary, the DC had taken official leave after the meeting. ‘On being asked as to why he did not inform the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police on his inability to establish contact with one of his subordinate staff, assuming that he might have some knowledge about the preceding incident, Pankaj Kumar Pal said that he did not inform about the matter as he thought that Kishan might have gone to Kasom Khullen via Thoubal (i.e., to the remote area of Ukhrul District by taking a long course of journey through Thoubal District)’.9
Naga Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah faction)
Until the government had announced the ‘rescue’ of Kapangkhui Zimik, Ramthing and Ramshing on 21 February that the NSCN-IM had denied its involvement in the murder and knowledge about the involvement of its cadres in the murder.
Whether the ‘rescue’, which would obviously disclose the identity of the murderers, had necessitated the NSCN-IM to accept involvement of its cadre in the murder or not have not been proven. Whatever may be the factors for coincidence, the NSCN-IM on 22 February clarified that three of its cadres namely Commanding Officer of Kiusumong Battalion (Siroy) Lt. Col. H Ningshen, Sergeant Major Ashang and Town Commander Apho Sibo had carried out the murder. According to the clarification, ‘the three were acting on their own individual capacity… they do not represent the (NSCN-IM) in any position’ and that investigation was on to round up all those involved in the murder’.10 The murderers were kept under the custody of NSCN-IM for further investigation and legal action.
On 23 February NSCN-IM stated that the party could not take up immediate official decision and action on the murderers and sought for some more time on the ground that ‘some more persons involved in the barbaric act are yet to be rounded up’.11
On 25 February NSCN-IM came up with a statement saying that a high level enquiry committee was constituted with ‘direction to submit investigation report on or before 4 March’.12
In an interview on 2 March, the home minister of the NSCN-IM Keditsu Tsuzuh ruled out handing over of the murderers to the Government of Manipur but that his ‘government has its own law and those guilty will be tried within our judicial system’.13
On 28 May 2009, the NSCN-IM handed over Lt.Col. HK Ningshen, one of the prime convicts, to the civil society Naga Hoho. The Naga Hoho handed over Ningshen to the CBI.15
Were there any other murderers
On 19 February the Government of Manipur in an immediate response to the 48 hours general strike called by civil societies ordered for a probe into the murder case. The government at the same time announced suspension of the DC and the Superintendent of Police of Ukhrul District A. Dorji from service for dereliction of duty. However, no criminal proceeding has been initiated against the DC till date.
On 21 February the Government of Manipur announced that a combined team of Assam Rifles and police led by an Inspector General ‘rescued’ Kapangkhui Zimik, Ramthing and Ramshing who were abducted along with Kishan on 13 February and freed on 14 February.
On 23 February Wungmasho, former headman of Langdang Village was arrested and he was sent to jail on 1 March.
On 25 February Mahei Kasar, the driver of the Bolero was arrested and he was sent to jail on 4 March.
The chairman of Seikhor village, Soreingam Riphung and the secretary Th Zimik were arrested on February 26 and 27 respectively and they were sent to jail on 4 March.
On 18 March, an Enquiry Committee comprised of Agriculture Commissioner O Nabakishore and Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) L.M. Khoute submitted a report to the Additional Chief Secretary D.S. Poonia. Till date the government has been keeping the report confidential.
On 1 April, the Gauhati High Court, Imphal Bench issued a notice of motion to the Central government, State government and Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) directing these institutions to submit status of the investigation into the murder case.
It was also confirmed that the Government of India has entrusted the CBI to investigate into two First Information Reports (FIRs), i.e., ‘FIR No. 8(2)09 under sections 365, 368 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 (Act No 45 of 1860) registered at the Police Station Ukhrul and FIR No.3(2)09 under section 302 of the IPC, 1860 (Act No 45 of 1860) registered at Police Station Senapati, Manipur…’.
On 3 April the CBI team started investigation into the case. Till date no official report has been published.
Why were they killed?
According to the statement of NSCN-IM there was ‘collusion that has nothing to do with socio-political interest other than laundering public money… (and) when studied from the angle of criminal detective, the mastermind of the whole thing points towards Pankaj, conniving with the ruffians within NSCN and outside NSCN’. The statement sounds like escapism. How would a militant party say that the party’s Lt. Colonel, Town Commander and Seargent Major were not accountable to the party? Does it mean to say that there is institutional breakdown in the disciplinary order or gangsterism within the party? On the other hand, even if the primary motivation of murdering was extortion of public funds for personal interest; the character of the well-planned killing, selection of victims and spot of abandonment of the dead bodies were bent on communalism, i.e., three Meeteis and three Tangkhuls were abducted by Tangkhul criminals and the three Meeteis were murdered brutally and abandoned near a Kuki village. Was not it aimed at inciting suspicion of Meeteis vis-à-vis the Kukis in case the involvement of Tangkhul criminals were not being exposed? Does not the exposure generate intercommunity tension between the Meeteis and the Tangkhuls on the one hand and between the people of Senapati and the Tangkhuls on the other hand?16 Logically, the crime was communal and it had socio-political ramifications. Who gains from it? Communalism strengthens communal organisations, weakens the bond of community co-existence and serves the material interest of class rulers who extract the surplus value of peasants and workers within communities in the name of community assertion.
There could be other reasons as well. Dr. Kishan as I knew him was a progressive intellectual cum activist influenced by Marxism. Born on 26 February 1972 in Imphal in Manipur, he had completed his B.A. and M.A. in English with first class first position from Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi. He had cleared the National Eligibility Test for teaching in 1998. He had taught in Shyamlal College, University of Delhi from 1996 to 1999; D.M. College of Arts, Manipur University from 2005 to 2007; Churachandpur College, Manipur University in 2005; and was appointed as Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Manipur University in 2007. He was a founder member and editor of the journal Alternative Perspective that was aimed at exploring material perspectives of Manipur within South East-Asian economic paradigm. Apart from several published works in journals and editions his notable volumes include among others; Rethinking Colonialism, World View, New Delhi, 2006 and ‘Ordeals and Upheavals; A Critique of Hindu Proselytisation in Manipur’ in Proselytisation in India, The Process of Hinduisation in Tribal Societies, Dharmendra Kumar & Yemuna Sunny (Ed.), Akar Books, New Delhi, 2009.
As a student activist he had worked with the Northeast Committee on Human Rights and the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi in 1990s. Kishan was among the Meeteis who in his capacity as a student had devoted to campaigning and organising cultural fest Wakchingee Nong to promote unity and peace among the Nagas and Kukis who were in communal conflict. Before he became editor of the journal Alternative Perspectives in mid 2000s he was working with the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation. He was a man who was born and brought up in the cities but was willing to work for the development of backward rural areas. He was less concerned about community boundaries and territorial hangovers than for the welfare of the marginalised and underprivileged sections of population. He had lived with a progressive ideology and while serving with the Manipur Civil Services (2007 batch) he had stood for structural reform, at least in his capacity within his administrative jurisdiction, to carry on with equitable distribution of rights and incentives. He was, therefore, an enemy to corrupt bureaucrats and mercenaries who had converted India’s administrative institutions into a den of private profiteering and corruption. The Indian state had also foreseen in the person of Kishan a potential revolutionary against Indian capitalism. He was, therefore, kidnapped and assassinated in a high level ‘structural conspiracy’ executed by an alliance of counterrevolutionary mercenaries including the corrupt DC who had laid a trap for Kishan in the format of a meeting scheduled for 13 February 2009. Both the associates of Kishan, driver Aribam Rajen and Yumnam Token were being murdered simply because they were with Kishan and to cover up true character of the plot. The enemy of the people had executed the murdering with communal colouring so that it incite communal tension and divert attention from both the cause and the culprits.
Why should the people of Manipur protest the murder? For an immediate punishment of the murderers! There is no disagreement on this issue. Who should be the legitimate authority to carry out criminal investigation and to award punishment? Disagreement becomes apparent on this issue. Why? In a situation where parallel administrations are being run by various flanks contesting one another, the Indian state being a party working in tactical collusion with one or other parties, and where party cadres are involved in crime, in an attempt to defend party ‘dignity and interest’, jurisdictional legitimacy of a party over the criminals is being arbitrarily imposed and it become mixed up with political questions. The trial of the murderers of Kishan has become a political issue and controversial when the NSCN-IM refused to hand over the murderers to the state government. If the murderers belong to Manipur why should they not be tried under Indian CrPC in Manipur? This straightforward question though sounds simple directly raises an intricate issue concerning the ‘Naga formation’ process in which NSCN-IM had claimed for leadership since 1988.17 Such a question, though indirectly related to the case of murder, impersonalises the crime from the immediate murderers and the target of protest is shifted towards the NSCN-IM.
When charges are being framed against the Government of Manipur for not bringing the murderers from the custody of NSCN-IM into their custody; the inability to do so on the part of the government can be interpreted from geo-territorial perspective. The basic question is; if the ceasefire agreement between Government of India and NSCN-IM was not extended into Manipur why was the NSCN-IM found to be operating in Manipur, and able to abduct six officials of the government in broad day light, move them from village to village with arms freely despite of the heavy deployment of Indian security forces in strategic areas, refuse to hand over the criminals to the government and so on and so forth. The government’s inability to book the criminals into its custody and award punishment was interpreted as either a prelude to or pretext of or example of surrendering Manipur’s territorial integrity to NSCN-IM.18 ‘Brand the NSCN-IM a terrorist organisation’! These are some of the charges and statements raised from the anti-NSCN-IM flank.
But then are we to continuously imperil ourselves through indulging in the most primitive form of browbeating with frenzied responses against one another? What would be the profit of the NSCN-IM in harbouring morally degenerated criminals and letting loose a reign of terror under their dictates? What should be the commensurable response of the protagonists of territorial integrity of Manipur if someone would raise objection to the historicity and politics of integrity? Is it the right moment to invoke sentiments by raising emotive questions on either the geographical limit of the ceasefire or the territorial integrity of Manipur when collective pressure had been heavily mounting upon the criminals and the party they are responsible to? Abusive response and counter response would never end if we are to deliberately keep on surviving the fruitless course of altercation, if not bargaining. Bargaining and campaigning along communal and party lines can be carried out inexhaustibly till dooms day. These are useless if it does not serve the material requirements of co-existence and progress. Such a routine affair of hoodwinking and browbeating delays consensus and could let the convicts buy time in delaying punishment. In the course of the delaying, intensive issues already in queue would become more sensitive. The murderers would be pushed into the background or out of focus as it was in the case of James Kuki who had masterminded the kidnapping of baby Elizabeth on 4 November 2003 for ransom and later on killed her.19
The collective voice for identification of the murderers and awarding of punishment may not be emotively conceived and focused on from a legal perspective alone. There are intricate issues around us that exist in a state of crisscrossing and its venom becomes apparent to distract public attention from a particular course of intercommunity consensus and collective effort. The legal aspect functions within a political economy that has a bearing on social relations. We may avenge the murder through imposing heavy corporal punishment, but the causes of such communally twisted criminal expression cannot be ruled out in a society where growing class contradiction is being addressed through communal colouring. When we condemn divide and rule by external factors as responsible for intercommunity conflict, are we suppose to neglect the dynamics of internal contradiction along communal line promoted by class rulers within our respective communities? Are we ideologically too impoverished and myopic that we fail to realise communalism as an instrument of exploitation to perpetuate class order?
Today imperialism in the disguise of Look East Policy looms over us. Should we choose to accept backwardness as our manifest destiny and remain far behind the advanced countries, only to become imperialist sponsored gangsters and compradors looting our resources? Are our underground organisations really fighting for the emancipation of the people? Why is that the NSCN-IM would charge the DC of Ukhrul for notoriety, corruption, greed and disgraceful only recently if it had known it for a long time? Will it say that it simply enjoys watching the Indian officers convert the administration machinery into a den of corruption? Can we really materialise social equality from the imperial spoils that are not under our control? What steps had the NSCN-IM planned to root out the nexus between corrupt Indian bureaucrats and the ruffians within NSCN-IM that had not only misappropriated funds meant for the poor Naga citizens but also had created class contradiction within the cadres? Why were the civil societies in Ukhrul that were supposed to be the champion for the cause of the Ukhrul people remaining in silence when the notorious DC was looting the people? On the different flank; how would the United National Liberation Front, Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front, Revolutionary People’s Front20 and other civil societies deal with the basic social and economic grievances of the impoverished sections of Manipur from the paradigm of territorial integrity? Would it be possible for our underground parties to create or carve out territory to build nation on the mortal remains of communal conflict? What revolutionary vision had been drafted for the people of Manipur by our revolutionary parties and progressive fronts so that unity for a change would be appealing to lakhs of potential revolutionaries who were living below the poverty line? The people of Manipur, when fighting for the cause of Kishan, Rajen and Yumnam, or for any issue need to restrain from sectarianism and initiate a durable collective effort to achieve development and the emancipation of Manipur from any form of suppression and exploitation.
1. Present Manipur in the Northeastern part of India bordering Myanmar was annexed by the then Indian Dominion in 1949. There is an armed liberation movement directed at overthrowing Indian administrative structure established in Manipur. While war between Indian forces and Manipur liberation forces continues, Manipur also witnesses conflict between communal forces and progressive forces.
2. The government promptly announced ex-gratia payment for the victims and decided to recruit the wife of Kishan to the Manipur Civil Services.
3. The residence of the bereaved family of Kishan was attacked with tear gas shells and rubber bullets at about 8 pm on 19 February.
4. Statement of Romita, wife of Kishan, recorded by Human Rights Alert on 19 February 2009.
5. Message from Sub-Divisional Officer to Department of Communication, Ukhrul District, Memorandum number SDC/1/KKL (Misc)/ 09, dated 17 February 200.
6. All of them belong to the Tangkhul community of the Nagas.
7. All of them belong to the Meetei community.
8. ‘NSCN-IM points finger at Ukhrul DC in SDO murder’ in the Sangai Express, Imphal, 4 March 2009.
9. ‘Triple killing: Manipur to demand hand-over of culprits’ in the Sangai Express, Imphal, 20 March 2009.
10. ‘NSCN-IM rounds up three ‘killers’ in the Sangai Express, Imphal, 23 February 2009.
11. ‘NSCN IM seeks some more time’ in the Sangai Express, Imphal, 24 February 2009.
12. ‘NSCN-IM vows to award ‘severest’ punishment’, reproduced from Newmai News Network, Dimapur, in the Sangai Express, 26 February 2009.
13. ‘No question of handing over Ningshen to Manipur: NSCN-IM’, Hueiyen News Service, 3 March 2009.
14. ‘NSCN-IM points finger at Ukhrul DC in SDO murder’ in the Sangai Express, Imphal, 04 March 2009.
15. A collective of the presidents of ‘Mao, Maram, Thangal, Poumai and Zeliangrong Senapati Zone have questioned the motive of the perpetrators as to why the Kasom Khullen SDO and his two staff were murdered in Senapati district after they were abducted from Ukhrul district’; ‘Naga People’s Organisation questions’ in the Sangai Express, Imphal, 20 February 2009.
16. ‘Letter to our Meitei Brothers and Sisters’, NSCN, Dated Oking: 8 March 2001.
17. An attempted process to create a separate territory of identified Naga tribes. NSCN-IM which came into existence in 1988 is one of the underground organisations active in this effort.
18. Extension into Manipur of the ceasefire, signed between India Government and NSCN-IM that came into existence since 1997, have been protested by many who considered that it would lead to disintegration of the recognised territorial integrity of Manipur.
19. In the Baby Lungningla Elizabeth case the CBI had said that delays in the investigation (for about four years) were due to lack of cooperation from the Manipur Government and the negotiations with Naga militant outfit NSCN-IM to ‘release’ accused James Kuki, whom it had taken into its ‘custody’ for ‘investigating the case’. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/4-chargesheeted-for-murder-of-exmanipur-ministers-daughter/279382/, as accessed on 5 April 2009.
20. These underground parties fight for the territorial integrity and independence of Manipur.