7 months after rape and murder of Shila Nengneikim Haokip, justice still a far cry

Jalun Haokip *

Seven months have passed since the rape and murder of Miss Nengneikim Haokip alias Cecilia alias Shila on May 5, but mystery lingers and justice remains a far cry. And, the loved ones of Shila and justice lovers are still crying out for justice.

In what is reminiscent of the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape that triggered nationwide outrage and protest, Shila, the 21-year-old private school teacher from New Molbem village in Chandel district, near Sugnu, was allegedly gruesomely gang-raped, tortured and murdered on the intervening night of May 4.

Shila’s dead body was found in the early morning of May 5 at a place near Sugnu, a town split into two districts of Chandel (hill) and Thoubal (valley). A 28-year-old man, Kaikholen Tuboi, was also found brutally murdered at a spot about half a kilometre apart from where Shila's dead body was found. Shila’s dead body was buried hurriedly on May 6, and that of Kaikholen on May 7, without proper investigation and justice.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on May 6 by representatives from the State government, led by the local MLA of Chandel, who is also a cabinet minister, and representatives of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) against the murder, including leaders of the KSO and KWHR. The non-fulfilment of the MoU, which already came under heavy criticism from various quarters due to lack of commitment to timely justice, has infuriated the aggrieved family and all concerned.

The first point of the MoU states, "Investigation regarding double killing of Miss Nengneikim and K. Tuboi will be taken to its logical conclusion, to give exemplary punishment to the culprits….". But the question remains – who raped Shila and why, what has the authority done to arrest the culprits and when will justice be delivered?

Speaking of the MoU, an aggrieved family member wondered if it was a trick to get the dead body buried and the case ended without justice. When this writer spoke to Shila's brother, he laments, "The MoU was done without us being consulted." "Anyway, what I want is justice and stern actions taken against the culprits according to the law of the land so that this kind of diabolical and despicable act does not happen again to anyone in our society," added the anguished brother. What is the point in making an agreement in a piece of paper if it is not meant to be fulfilled?

After the death of her father in 2004 and mother in 2012, Shila lived with her two sisters (the elder one married) and one younger brother—separately from the household of her step siblings, who also live in the same village. With her meagre income as a private teacher, she was supporting her family, particularly the study of her younger brother, who is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree course in Imphal.

The victim's family have been already totally tormented by the tragic loss of their loved one. But it is too painful and too heartbreaking that they do not know if they would ever get to know the real culprits and if there would ever be justice in this case.

Manipur Police Chief, DGP LM Khaute, made a media statement on May 8 that a female suspect in the case had been detained by the police for interrogation and that no formal arrest has been made so far while further investigation was on. It is unclear whether the police have identified other persons of interest in this case and whether those persons have been formally investigated or charged.

It has been clarified in the 'May 17 Agreement' between the State government and JAC against this murder that news reported in a local Manipuri daily on May 9 which claimed Kaikholen died of drug overdose was not authentic and did not come from the investigating officers.

Shila's family and many others believe this was just a ploy to blame two dead people, both of whom are victims of crime and cannot defend themselves, and end the case without a logical conclusion.

A member of the JAC against Sugnu double murder case, on conditions of anonymity, told this writer that she resented the poor quality of police investigation into the case, adding that the conduct of the doctor who led the post mortem also is highly questionable as he made some totally unrelated comments when a team from the JAC went to him and asked for post mortem reports. Do these, she asked, point to a conspiracy to bury evidence?

It has emerged that though Shila's family have been verbally informed of the post mortem report, a copy of the report was not handed to them despite requesting for it. When a team of Thadou Students’ Association (TSA), who have now taken up the case for justice, met with Superintendent of Police, Kakching, and investigating officers concerned on December 11, they were bluntly told that they cannot be handed the post mortem report and that forensic reports are still unavailable.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that a couple who were arrested by the police in connection with the double murder case have been released from jail recently. While there are many speculations, confusions and mystery surrounding the case and lack of transparency with the authority, there are apprehensions of potential public outrage if justice in the murder case continues to be delayed.

Based on the narratives of those who witnessed the dead body of Shila, it is highly suspected that Shila was brutally gang-raped and tortured before being murdered in cold blood. It is also highly suspected that Kaikholen was murdered by the same perpetrators. But, could forensic evidence have been buried along with the dead bodies of the two victims of crime?

When this writer contacted the Police in May regarding the case, Police will not divulge information as the case was still under investigation. The case has been transferred from Sugnu Police to Kakching Police, but apparently there has not been any significant progress in the investigation. No one has been arrested in Shila murder case. Clearly, justice is still a far cry.

In light of the lack of progress in the investigation and growing public disaffection and mistrust of the state police in this case, a high-level thorough probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be considered for speedy justice without any further delay.

Given the gravity of brutality and atrocity, the case of alleged gang-rape and murder of Shila deserves to be treated as seriously as the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape case in which justice has been delivered by awarding death penalty to the rapists of the 23-year-old Nirbhaya, nickname for Jyoti Singh, who succumbed to her injuries 13 days after the incident.

Shila had been brutally gang-raped, murdered and buried, but truth and justice must not be buried. Every right thinking person must speak up for justice in this case. Only when justice is delivered, will the loved ones of Shila and justice lovers be able to rest in peace.

* Jalun Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an Australia-based social worker
This article was posted on December 27, 2017.

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