Young souls await father who will never return
Source: Chronicle News Service / Mission Oinam

Imphal, August 25 2023: It was Wednesday, April 25, when Ibochou Pechimayum (45) came out from his small hut, a place he called home, to join his fellow workers in a contract job at S Molnom village in Churachandpur district.

Little did he knew that it would be his last journey, which he would never return from.

His parting words to his two young daughters, Monalisa (10) and Jina (8), linger in the air: "Papa will bring back heaps of treats for my two Machathoibi.

Behave kindly with your mother and never let your studies wane." Today, amidst the passage of time, these two young souls remain steadfastly anchored in their longing for their father's return, alongside the snacks he had lovingly promised.

Since the violence broke out on May 3 from Churachandpur district, there are several people, who went missing without knowing whether they are dead or alive.

And there are also several people, who have died but their mortal remains could never reach home.

Ibochou is one of such many people.

His family was worried about him when the violence broke out.

It was a few agonizing days later that the heart-wrenching news of his demise arrived, delivered by the Churachandpur district police.

His post mortem had been conducted at the district hospital, a grim finality that shattered his wife, Pechimayum Ongbi Chaobi (41), propelling her into a spiral of, mental anguish.

In her time of grief, her sister Athokpam Naobi took on the mantle of caring for the young daughters left behind, innocent souls still holding onto hope, blissfully unaware of the cruel twist of fate that had befallen their father.

Ibochou was a driver and a resident of Sabungkhok village in Imphal East district.

He got married to Athokpam Chaobi of Sabungkhok Makha Leikai and they had three daughters.

Unfortunately, their eldest daughter died in a tragic road accident at the age of 3.That incident left a traumatic scar on Chaobi and it only got worse after the death of her husband.

They were not affluent, but their contentment with life's modest offerings rendered them rich in spirit.

Sadly, their tranquil existence was obliterated by the sweeping storm of ethnic strife, catalyzed by Kuki mobs aided by armed Kuki militants.

This cataclysmic upheaval unleashed violence that claimed lives and razed homes in Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts on that fateful May 3 afternoon.

In the wake of this destruction, Chaobi's once intact world lay shattered, and in her anguish, she found herself grappling with questions of destiny.

With a voice cracked by grief, Chaobi's words resound, "My husband was the provider, ensuring our sustenance and our daughters' education.

Now, in his absence, I sell the poultry and cattle he nurtured to eke out a living and support my daughters' education.

The future of my daughters' education is uncertain, and I am left to wonder if I can bear this burden alone".

During an exclusive talk with The People's Chronicle, Chaobi said that her husband used to drive a dumper truck under a contractor named Chirom Iboyaima of Sagolband Tera Yengkhom Leirak.

He went to S Molnom village in Churachandpur for a contract work handled by the contractor.

But destiny has something in store other than the hope of earning some money as he was killed in the ethnic violence.

Angered by his death, his brother in-law went out with the thought of avenging his death only to be killed in the Khamenlok massacre.

"The brother in- law was Laishram Naocha (31) husband of Ibochou's younger sister Ibe.

He was a resident of Oksu village.

He was restless to avenge his brother inlaw's death and it left his wife a widow.

The two became a victim of the ethnic violence," Chaobi said with tears rolling down her face.

Chaobi recounted her last communication with her husband to The People's Chronicle.

On May 4, amidst escalating tensions, she implored Ibochou to return.

He reassured her, stating that the village chief had extended them sanctuary, and no harm would befall them.

After that his mobile phone was switched off.

On May 5 morning, on her request, a local youth called Oscar, who used to work with him, took the mobile number of the village chief from the work supervisor.

He called the village chief, who let her husband to talk.

"He told Oscar that he is safe and sound asking him to tell me not to worry saying that I am not strong mentally.

That was the last communication I had with him.

Even though, he said that he was fine, I was worried because I could heard a lot of commotion in the background and his voice sounded tense.

Since then, I have not heard from him anymore," Chaobi told TPC.

On a fateful day, possibly May 8 or 9, local media bore the grim tidings of three workers' bodies discovered in Churachandpur district.

Her sister's anguished disclosure linked one face to Ibochou's, a revelation she could not muster the strength to confront.

And so, the Churachandpur police relayed the sombre news over the phone, announcing the completion of the post-mortem, yet the remains remained confined, trapped in the clutches of distance.

Besieged by this weight of sorrow, Chaobi grapples with the cruel dilemma of how to shield her daughters from the stark reality of their father's demise.

With every inquiry for their father, they reopen a wound, and all she can offer are Comforting lies, a frail attempt to preserve their innocence.

"They keep asking when he will return and all I could say is that their father is stuck in Churachandpur due to the crisis and will return as soon as the situation is resolved.

I do not know how long I can withhold the truth from them.

I yearn to ask him why he departed, leaving behind his two precious daughters," she confesses, her grief unabated.

Haunted by the spectres of loss and plunged into the abyss of poverty, Chaobi navigates a life steeped in ambiguity.

So far, nobody has provided any help to the family and she is gradually losing hope of getting any assistance as time passes by.

The sting of abandonment gnaws at her, and the silence that surrounds their plight erodes her hope for aid as days dissolve into the past.

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