May 3, 2023 : How it all started at Torbung
Source: The Sangai Express

Imphal, September 23 2023: Churachandpur district, the epicentre of the violent conflict between Meiteis and the Kukis involving armed SoO (Suspension of Operation) groups, seems to remain cut off from the rest of Manipur since May 3 .

With no Manipur mainstream media presence in the Kuki dominated district, what has actually happened in Churachandpur since May 3 had remained elusive until this report.

The Sangai Express has dug up and has in its possession the testimonies of Meiteis who lost homes overnight and had to flee Churachandpur for their lives on May 3 .

These testimonies of the events that preceded the May 3 violence and events that followed have been compiled and filed with the Manipur Human Rights Commission.

May 3, 2023 : How it all started at Torbung
May 3, 2023 : How it all started at Torbung

All the names of victims and witnesses have been changed for their privacy and security in this report.

All information and testimonies presented here are from the complaint filed by the displaced victims with the Manipur Human Rights Commission.

Dominated by "Kukis" at present, Churachandpur district in the South-West of Manipur had about 18 villages inhabited by Meiteis till recent May 3 .

Now, several reports cite that there are no Meitei houses standing in the district.

All houses and shops belonging to the Meiteis have been bulldozed and levelled to the ground, said sources.

The Sangai Express now brings our readers the testimonies of the "first attack" at Torbung Bangla and series of events that unfolded in the adjoining areas in Bishnupur district.

The Sangai Express will publish the testimonies of the events that have happened in all the 18 Meitei villages of Churachandpur in the coming editions.

The "first attack" at Torbung Bangla and Waikhurok

On May 3, All Tribal Students' Union Manipur (ATSUM) organised "Tribal Solidarity March", now infamously described as the cause of the present 143-days-old violent conflict, in all districts inhabited by tribal people.

While ATSUM claimed the march was against a direction of the High Court of Manipur to consider sending recommendation for inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes' list, the proposed peaceful rally turned violent with the participation of armed Kuki miscreants suspected to be cadres of groups under the Suspension of Operation (SoO) pact in Churachandpur.

The march, however, completed peacefully in all Naga dominated districts.

As the solidarity march took an ugly turn in Churachandpur, at around 3.20 pm on May 3, the protesters and the armed men, mostly in black clothes, first tried to storm Waikhurok village, under Kumbi Constituency where there are 33 Meitei villages.

However, they decided to "attack Torbung Bangla first" which had a larger Meitei population.

The testimonies/complaint read, "Many of them [protesters] did not speak the local tribal dialect.

The Kuki militants were talking to each other saying that Waikhurok village is a small place and therefore they should attack it later.

They were saying that they should first attack Torbung where there is a bigger Meitei population.

Then, they proceeded towards Torbung Bangla along the Tiddim Road" .

On seeing the Kuki militants, the Meitei residents of Waikhurok locked their houses and ran for their lives in the paddy fields.

The protesters and armed Kuki men started vandalising and destroying the properties belonging to Meiteis at Torbung and adjoining villages.

A witness from Torbung Sabal Leikai claimed she saw a large number of Kuki people running towards Torbung from a distance at around 3 pm (May 3) and witnessed Mr X who used to sell drinking water being beaten by a group of people.

She also saw the house of Mr Y burnt down by the Kuki miscreants.

At Torbung Sabal Maning Leikai, the Kuki miscreants first burnt down the house of Mr Y and then a community hall.

Another witness claims she saw Kuki miscreants holding catapults and logs, and some Kuki women transporting stones in handcarts.

A man from Torbung Mamang Leikai who was working in the field near Khuga River said he ran towards his home when he heard some gunshots.

On the way, he claims he saw Kuki miscreants with guns burning down the house of Mr Z situated near the Forest office.

At Torbung Bangla, the Kuki men and militants led by "a fat man" started destroying a signboard put up on the road.

The Kuki militants shouted "Kanagi Ayaba Louraga Bishnupur District Thabra" (Under whose permission, Bishnupur district is written in the sign board) .

The Meitei youths of Torbung areas tried to protect their villages, but the Kuki militants fired upon them with sophisticated weapons.

Unable to resist the large number of Kuki militants and miscreants, the Meitei residents ran for their lives.

Few police personnel who came from Moirang side tried to stop the rioters/armed Kukis, but they were outnumbered.

While the Kuki miscreants destroyed and burnt Meitei properties, "the role of Churachandpur police led by the SP could not be ascertained" .

All the while curfew was imposed, armed Kukis continued to destroy and torch Meitei houses the next day.

"On May 4, the Kuki miscreants led by the son of Saihenjang village chief torched many houses of Torbung Bangla," said the testimony of a witness.

As the news spread, Meitei residents of Churachandpur started panicking and fleeing to safety, some sought refuge at 46 Assam Rifles camp at Khuga Dam.

Meiteis from small localities sought shelter at Khumujamba Leikai where there was a bigger Meitei population for their safety and security.

Remember, all these happened afte the burning down of an Open Gym at PT Sports Complex, Churachandpur on April 27 and a subsequent alleged "demand to withdraw Manipur police commandos from Churachandpur town" by Saikot AC MLA Paolienlal Haokip" in an interview with Chief Bureau of North East Live", according to the complaint filed with the MHRC.

The Open Gym was due to be inaugurated on April 28 by Chief Minister N Biren Singh.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF) had called a total shutdown in Churachandpur district on April 28 from 8 am to 4 pm.

ITLF had claimed that the shutdown was imposed in protest against the Government's land survey and demolition of Churches.

On April 29, protesters had also torched the office building of the Range Forest Officer in Tuibong area.

In what could be described as an apparent move against Government's eviction of illegal encroachers from Protected and Reserved Forest land, as many as 16 forest offices were targeted to be vandalised and torched by protesters on May 3 during ATSUM's "Solidarity March".

All the forest offices are/were located in Kuki dominated areas.

The Government and law enforcement agencies including the Forest Department had been cracking down on illegal encroachers and illegal poppy cultivation on the hills across several districts.

The violence since May 3 in Manipur has killed over 170 people and displaced more than 65,000 people, mostly from the Meitei community.

The Sangai Express will bring our readers the testimonies of displaced victims and the series of events that occurred in Thingkangphai, Khumujamba Leikai and other villages in Churachandpur in the coming issues.

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