Representing neither government nor private institutions specifically, but the unified voice of the students of Manipur, thousands gathered and made their way towards the Chief Minister’s official residence in Babupara. Their plea was heart-wrenching, a call for justice for two of their peers allegedly killed at the hands of Kuki militants. However, their fervent march was halted by the combined might of State and Central security forces at Yaiskul, where they were met with volleys of tear gas. In a remarkable display of unity and resilience, students converged from various points, especially near Singjamei Yumnam leikai, all marching determinedly towards the CM’s bungalow. Yet once again, they found their path obstructed by the unyielding state forces.
Amid the palpable tension, an unexpected gesture came from the Manipur Police. Several high-ranking officials approached the crowd, seeking dialogue with the student representatives. The officials proposed a meeting: they asked the students to nominate 20 of their peers, an equal split of 10 males and 10 females, to directly converse with the Chief Minister. This offer, however, was met with mixed reactions from the crowd. Many students, fueled by emotion and a thirst for justice, expressed their frustration openly. “Chief Minister N Biren Singh is comfortably seated in his air-conditioned office, while we, the students, are out here on the streets, fighting for our rights,” echoed a prevailing sentiment among the protestors. “He should step out and face us directly.” Their demand was clear; they wanted the Chief Minister not just to hear, but to truly listen and engage with their collective voices.
“We Want Justice” and “Long Live Manipur” were among the powerful slogans that they repeatedly chanted, a testament to their resilience and unity. Taking their protest to an even larger scale, the students blocked National Highway 102. Sitting side by side on the asphalt, male and female students alike made their grievance known to the world. Their collective grievance was clear: they sought justice for the two students who had disappeared.
In the midst of this sea of solidarity, a student voiced a question that likely weighed on many minds: “The two students had been missing for months. What was the Chief Minister doing all this while? Does he want to see more of us harmed or even killed? If so, here we are. Come out and end our suffering.” While many criticised the Chief Minister, some turned their attention to the broader issues plaguing Manipur. Another student, with a tone of sheer exasperation, lambasted the Chief Minister’s claims of addressing the situation: “Manipur Police have repeatedly attacked and injured innocent civilians, including students. Yet, the Chief Minister has failed to take decisive action against those responsible for such brutalities. He frequently speaks of ‘actions’ taken, but we see nothing. What actions are he referring to? What justice does he claim to offer?”
As moments turned into hours, there was a palpable attempt to contain the rising tension. The police tried to engage the students in dialogue at Yaiskul, attempting to negotiate some semblance of calm as more and more students joined from the Singjamei side. It was a delicate balance, and for a brief period, it seemed that dialogue might prevail.
However, as the hours wore on, the students noticed the police initiating the water cannon vehicle. This move, perceived as a prelude to forceful action, ratcheted up the anxiety and fear amongst the protestors. Their concerns were soon validated when the distinct sound of tear gas canisters pierced the air, followed by the ominous hiss of the gas spreading.
The students, driven by fear, adrenaline, and a sense of injustice, responded with the limited means they had. Using slingshots and the very streets they sat on as their arsenal, they fired projectiles and hurled stones at the police. What had initially started as a peaceful protest had escalated into a pitched street battle, marking a critical turn in the unfolding events. The already charged atmosphere grew even more volatile, and the distance between the students and the state authorities widened further.
The tragic turn of events saw the peaceful assembly spiraling into chaos, resulting in around 20 students suffering injuries. The wailing sirens of ambulances became a constant background noise, rushing back and forth to transport the wounded to nearby medical facilities. In a desperate bid for reconciliation and understanding, 30 student representatives were chosen to meet with the Chief Minister, led by the Superintendent of Police of Imphal West. The atmosphere during this high-stakes meeting was heavy with a mixture of hope and apprehension.
During the dialogue, the student representatives were forthright and unwavering in their demands. Their primary plea was for the government to swiftly bring to justice the perpetrators responsible for the cold-blooded killing of the two Meitei students within a stipulated period of five days. They also voiced their growing concerns about the excessive force and aggressive tactics deployed by the central and state security forces, particularly the firing of tear gas shells and rubber bullets aimed directly at students. The deeply-felt grief and anger resonated in their call for the government to locate and return the mortal remains of the lost students.
Furthermore, the students highlighted the insensitivity and neglect shown by central security forces towards the general populace, a sentiment that had been simmering for a long time. There was an urgency in their demand for Chief Minister Biren to immediately travel to Delhi to secure a resolution to the ongoing crisis. Additionally, they implored for the internet ban, which was hampering academic activities, to be lifted. However, the outcome of the meeting left much to be desired. The Chief Minister, it seemed, was unable to provide any concrete assurances regarding the students’ pressing demands. This lack of commitment further deepened the chasm of mistrust. As one student representative pointedly remarked, the talks had been unfruitful. Reflecting the collective sentiment, this representative declared that educational institutions would remain closed, and protests would only intensify until the mortal remains of the students were recovered, signaling a prolonged period of unrest and stand-off in the days to come.