In a poignant ceremony that merged solemnity with a seven-month long yearned-for putting the martyrs lifeless body to rest, 87 identifiable tribal martyrs from the Zomi, Kuki, Hmar and Mizo communities were finally laid to rest today at Martyrs Cemetery near Mata Village, a few kilometres from Lamka Town in Manipur South.
The emotional event unfolded amidst a backdrop of reverence and remembrance, yet far from marking the culmination of their prolonged struggle for justice and closure. Till date, only a few cases managed to reach the ear of the justice court.
The martyrs, who tragically lost their lives during a clash between the communities and alleged State forces months ago were honoured in a deeply moving ceremony attended by thousands from various walks of life. The families of the fallen victims, draped in traditional attire, stood resilient yet visibly emotional as the ceremony commenced.
Culture and Burial
The dignified procession to the final resting place of the martyrs was a symbolic representation of the unity forged within the community in their honour. Prayers, chants, and traditional rituals accompanied the solemn journey, underscoring the rich cultural heritage and profound reverence for the departed souls.
Among Zo people, the death ceremony occupies an important place in their religious life. They strongly believed in the relationship between the body and soul; and life after death. It is the customary and religious belief that the soul cannot be at rest, and his/her soul would be mixed up with foreign tribes, if a person’s body lies in a foreign land away from his native place (Tualchin Neihsial, History and Culture of the Zoumis, p. 96). The burying of the Zo martyrs today in their ancestral land brings a sense of cultural and religious closure. “It’s a bittersweet moment for us,” shared one of the family members who lost her son in Imphal on May 4 with tears glistening in her eyes. “While we mourn the loss of our loved ones, seeing them finally receive the respect and recognition they deserved brings a sense of closure.”
Nonetheless, the question remains, when will families of unidentified victims and families of victims whose untraceable lifeless bodies feel their sense of closure?
The programme solemnised under the aegis of Joint Philanthropic Organisation (JPO), Lamka was segmented into two sessions, the condolence programme was held from 11pm at the Wall of Remembrance at Tuibuong, Lamka. During the condolence programme observed by more than tens of thousands from the Zo ethnic communities, the CYMA President Lalhmachuana stated that, “the blood of our 87 Zo brethren had called us all the way from the Hill capital of Mizoram, Aizawl, to be here with them in this last 11 hr. Let their blood be not in vain, is what we are praying for…” To this various voices echo from different dignitaries to preserve the unity of the Zo brotherhood.
The burial programme was held from 2 pm with the procession of the martyrs from the district Medical College to the Martyrs Cemetery near Mata Village, Lamka. The procession was honoured by the public with hands held beside the road. The Zomi Students’ Federation, GHQ as an exemplary symbol of goodwill gesture and honour to the victims family helped ferry the victim families to the burial site. The burial ceremony was concluded after a traditional respect of gun salute and the wrapping of coffins with traditional puandum were done by each frontal organisations from the Zomi, Kuki, Mizo and Hmar communities.
Supreme Court and Burial
It was just last month that based on the recommendation of the Justice Gita Mittal Committee and the argument made by the State, the Zomi Students Federation (ZSF), Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi (MTFD) and others, Supreme Court passed an order on November 28, 2023 directing the Government of Manipur to ensure dignified and honourable burial. Under Article 21 of the Constitution, the State as a welfare state is under obligation to ensure a dignified burial.
As per the report, 13 made by the Gita Mittal Committee before the Supreme Court last month, out of the 179 reported deaths from both communities, 169 bodies are identified. Out of the 169 identified bodies, 96 bodies belong to the Zo ethnic communities. Interestingly, the Zomi Students’ Federation, Media/IT Cells recorded that as on November 25, 2023 there were 158 victims killed from the Zo community alone.
With the 19 buried Zo Martyrs in Kangpokpi last week and 87 buried martyrs today in Lamka (Churachandpur), there are still about 52 victims whose remains are unidentified and yet to be located.
Siam, a tribal rights activist, states that the report 13 submitted by the Gita Mittal Committee to the Apex Court has overlooked the rights of the indigenous hill tribal communities.
The report suggested the use of the Manipur Municipalities Act, 1994 in order to dispose off the identified and unidentified dead bodies located in the hill areas. The Manipur Municipalities Act, 1994 specifically stated under section 1 clause 2 that the Act is not applicable in the hill areas of Manipur where the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971 is applicable.
Siam also stressed the need to properly identify the remaining Zo victims, while expressing his gladness that the identified Zo tribal victims are put to rest with honour and dignity.
As the sun set on the day, hearts heavy with both grief and relief, the community found solace in the unity displayed. The legacy of the Zo tribal martyrs lives on, not just in memory but in the lasting impact their sacrifice has left on the path towards a more harmonious society while awaiting the dawn of justice.