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Manipur Crisis: Excessive use of force against unarmed school students on September 26/27

X-Ray image of one of the victims of pellet gun firing

It is hoped that the committee constituted to inquire into the September 26/27 episodes will submit an unbiased report at the earliest, and irresponsible police and central force personnel will be punished. The citizens are eagerly waiting for the committee’s report; the longer it gets delayed, the greater will be the angst of the citizens.

By Ringo Pebam

On the 26th and 27th of September, students of various schools protested in Imphal and other districts against the cold-blooded murder of students Hijam Linthoingambi and Hemajit Phijam by armed Kuki militants. At Imphal, students were on their way to submit a memorandum to the chief minister, but they were met with heavy blows of lethal weapons from the state forces.

On September 27th, Pipin Takhellambam from Loushangkhong, a 9th-standard student at Lamlai High School, was with his friends for the protest at Yaiskul. The Rapid Action Force (RAF) was chasing them. They were fleeing, and when he turned back, pellet shots were fired, and he was hit by multiple pellets from head to toe. His two other friends from the same school, Goro Samom of Nongren Mamang Leikai, was hit by 19 pellets in the head and neck, and Manao Naambam of Lousangkhong was hit by 8 pellets in the neck.

Kingson Nongthombam, of Luwangsangbam, studying in class 11 in EK School, was hit by 23 pellets in his abdomen, at Yaiskul, at around 4 PM on 27th September. Scared to inform his parents, he removed some pellets on his own with his bare hands. An elder of Yaiskul, took him to Advanced Hospital, where more pellets were removed, and another three that went deep were removed at Shija Hospital.

Bishwanath Laishram of Samurou Mayai Leikai, studying in class 12 at Little Master Hr. Sec School, was hit by multiple pellets at Moirangkhom on September 27th. So was Yurembam Rahul of Khumbong, of Johnstone Hr. Sec School, with pellet injuries in the eye; Johnson Thokchom of Naharup, of Pioneer School, with pellet injuries in the whole body; and Romakanta Longjam of Waheng Khuman, of St. Stephen Hr. Sec School, with pellet injuries in the ribs, all on the 27th of September.

A class 11 student, under the Urdu Board, and also a national ‘wushu’ player, Uttam Soibam, of Liwa Maibam Leikai, was injured on the night of September 26. There was a face-off between the students and the RAF and police at Singjamei Sapam Leikai. It was around 10 PM, and he wanted to come home, but to come home, he had to cross the main road, but there were police and RAF all around. Unable to cross the road, they were hiding in the compound of a house nearby. The RAF knew that they were hiding inside, and they climbed the wall and put their torch light on them; then Uttam and his friends started to run, and suddenly around 90 pellets hit Uttam’s head from the back.

On the 26th of September, at around 11:30 PM, Jotin Wahengbam, from Lilong Arapti, a class 8 student of Urup Hr. Sec School, was at the protest at Kakwa. The state forces were after him and the others; they were fleeing, and his shoelace got loose, so he stopped and kneeled, and when he was tightening his shoelace, a bullet pierced his back, hit the liver, went through the side of his stomach, and hit his hand.

Studying in class 12, a student of Thambalnu School, Kishan Loitongbam of Yairipok, was one of the many in the protest rally at Yaiskul on September 27th. At around 2:30 PM, when state forces dispersed the students, he, like the others, ran helter-skelter. He then hid behind a green-coloured gate in between the furniture shops opposite Hicham Yaicham Pat. After some time, hoping that the RAFs must have left, he came out of hiding with fear and breathing fast. He opened the gate, and RAF personnel were hiding or waiting at the gate for him. Seeing the RAF, Kishan was startled and shouted, “Ema!” (mother) (exclamation in Manipuri when in fear), then the RAF put his gun on his shoulder and shot at point blank. His shoulder was torn and shattered, and 100+ pellets went into his muscles. Why did the RAF shoot at Kishan point-blank? Why, why, why? Kishan was in school uniform; he wasn’t armed; he didn’t have any stones or catapults. He was just a soft schoolboy in his school uniform, demanding justice against the killing of two students by Kukis militants, and it was his fundamental right to protest and submit a memorandum of grievances to the Chief Minister.
On the night of September 27th, after seeing the photos of Kishan and Uttam, I shot out a message via WhatsApp to my friends to contribute money to help the injured students, hoping to raise Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 for them. On the morning of September 28th, I set out on a lone ride to Raj Medicity and Shija Hospital, looking for Kishan and Uttam. Monetary contributions poured in in quantities big and small; the most inspiring was in the form of Rs 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 from students and aspirants of NEET/ NET/ bank exams, civil services exams, etc. who do not earn. On October 4th, with students of TG Hr. Sec., Xtra Edge, Mellenium (who were there in the protest on September 26th and 27th), and my friends Dr. Sanathoiba and Urmila, we scanned for those injured in the students’ protest at Advanced New and Old, JNIMS, RIMS, and Raj Medicity, and found some more who were still in hospitals that day. That day, among others, we found Jotin Wahengbam, whose case was critical and about whom the general public was not aware. A mere target of Rs 5 to 6 thousand rupees on September 27th became Rs 6,74,515 on October 6th morning, with big chunks of Rs 4,73,000 from the Meitei Diasporas and well-wishers in the USA and Canada and Rs 60,000 from Europe Meiteis.

On the 6th and 7th of October, when we went to hand over help to eight injured students from a collective global fund, Kishan’s father said, “My son is ghastly injured, and this can happen to any other student. I don’t want any other student to get injured this way. Please do something.” I have a moral obligation, and that’s why I am writing this article highlighting the stories of the students above.

Many citizens are still wondering who gave the order or permission to the RAF to shoot pellet guns at unarmed students. Was it the DC or SP of the concerned area, or did the RAF personnel have the discretionary power to decide to use pellet guns? Whatever be be the orders, at the end of the day, it is the both the central and state governments that should take the responsibility of halting violence of any kind but not perpetrate such atrocities on unarmed students. In the instant case, this can be termed as nothing but gross insensitivity of the people responsible for governance.

In 2021, the United Nations chief asked India to end the use of pellet guns on children in Jammu and Kashmir when Indian forces had extensively used shotgun pellets to subdue Kashmiri protesters, leaving many children blind, maimed, and killed. Now, we are in 2023, and state security forces rained pellets on school students in Manipur. What a shame!

The use of pellet guns on school students in Manipur is a violation of ‘Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials’, UNHR; ‘United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement’; ‘Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III)’; ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’, and ‘Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015’ under the UN Convention on Rights of the Child.

News reports of September 30 stated that Director General of Police Rajiv Singh has constituted a committee headed by K. Jayanta Singh, Inspector General of Police (Administrations), to look after the allegations of excesses of security forces during the students’ agitations.

I hope that the committee constituted is doing its inquiry; I hope an unbiased report will be submitted at the earliest, and irresponsible personnel will be punished. The citizens are waiting eagerly for the committee’s report; the longer it gets delayed, the greater the angst of the citizens will be. I also request the inquiry committee to look into Jotin’s case, speak to his doctors at Raj Medicity and experts, and find out if it was a real metal bullet or rubber bullet that pierced into his body, hitting the liver.

I hope the judiciary will be proactive and even take up suo moto cases on the excessive use of force on unarmed students.

Students who spoke to the CM on September 27 said that the CM assured them that the RAF or Manipur Police personnel who had used excessive force on students would be punished, and they hoped that the CM would not disappoint them.

(The writer is a computer science engineer and a heavy metal music enthusiast. He can be reached at [email protected])


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