The killing of Athuan Abonmai, advisor and former president of Zeliangrong Baudi (Assam-Manipur-Nagaland – AMN) after he was kidnapped by suspected militants of National Socialist Council of Nagaland – NSCN (IM) in broad daylight in front of the security personnel from the Pologround of Tamenglong Headquarter has shocked and saddened the people of Manipur.
The kidnapping and killing of Athuan Abonmai from a tight security zone where Manipur Chief Minister, Ministers, top officials of civil and police of the state were present besides tight security presence raises pertinent questions concerning state’s security and governance in the area.
Athuan Abonmai was abducted on September 22 before noon by unidentified persons from the high security zone at Pologround, Tamenglong HQ, while the programme of the Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren’s visit to the district for inauguration and laying of foundation stones for various projects was underway at the venue. The video clippings of his abduction in the presence of state police and paramilitary forces have gone viral in social media.
Reports said Athuan was found dead with bullet injuries and injury marks of striking with sledge hammer on head and other parts of his body in the evening on the same day near Pallong village under Tamei police station, in Tamei sub-division, Tamenglong district.
Notably, before his dead body was found the victim’s son, Arai Abonmai who lives in Imphal at their home at Thangmeiband Tarung village on hearing the news of his father’s abduction by unidentified persons lodged an FIR of the incident at the Lamphel police station the same day. The letter to the Officer-in-Charge of Lamphel Police Station mentioned, “… I have come to learn from my relatives that my father has been kidnapped and abducted today i.e. 22/9/2021 at about 11:30 am by NSCN (IM) cadres from Tamenglong Head Quarter Pologround”.
As there is apprehension that my father may be harmed by the UGs, I prayed that immediate measures be taken up to rescue my father, the letter to the OC added.
Recently he was very vocal for coexistence, unity and integrity of Manipur. He vehemently criticised the mode and motive of the proposed Manipur Autonomous District Council Bill 2021 by the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of Manipur State Assembly, which was not tabled in the 13th session of the 11th Manipur State Assembly held from August 20 to 24, 2021 due to procedural issues.
He expressed his views and opinions boldly regarding the development, coexistence, unity and integrity of Manipur to the media and in various media discussion fora.
Athuan said that State Assembly is not like a village meeting. Hill Areas Committee should know that Assembly has its own rules and conduct of business. The attempt to introduce ADC Bill is to get it passed but for propaganda that the valley people, CSOs and the State Government object to it. The sudden proposal of the Bill without any public convention is to fool the people of the state. The Bill proposed by some tribal MLAs is to make ways for propaganda in the coming assembly election.
He also said that Manipur will develop only when the hills and valleys develop together.
Regarding coexistence, unity and integrity of Manipur he stressed that we should cease to describe the people of Manipur as hill people and valley people, instead we need to envision together.
Another video clipping which has gone viral in social media shows Athuan Abonmai speaking to some tribal elders and leaders against the misdoings and agenda of NSCN (IM).
It is apparent that Athuan Abonmai became victim to the ethnocentric exclusivist militants as he stood and worked for development, peace, and coexistence of the different ethnic groups maintaining their distinctive identities, unity and integrity of Manipur.
It is also obvious from the strong condemnations from several organisations against the killing of Athuan Abonmai after he was abducted by some unidentified persons on September 22.
This was not just a murder of a leader but an attack on our community and human race as a whole. This shows the blatant misuse of power and the disregard of life by those wielding guns, the Liangmai Naga Katimai Ruangdi (LNKR) stated in a release on September 23. Guns and violence and murder is never the way to silence a voice of the people, LNKR added.
Freedom of speech and expression is a natural birthright of human beings… in this civilised society, any individual or organisation is expected to respect the fundamental right of its citizens, LNKR urged.
“Athuan Abonmai was a tall leader among the Liangmai community. He was a leader who always strived to unite, create a prosperous community among all. His murder has set us backwards again to those years where we longed for such an outspoken leader,” it stated.
The Liangmai Naga Council, Eastern Zone, Eastern Liangmai Chief Chairman Association and the Ahangruak Chief Chairman Association urged the people to respect human lives and called for delivering justice to the killing of Athuan Abonmai.
The release stated that one should not take the life of others based on ideological differences and there is no place for violence in democracy, it added.
The Zeliangrong Students’ Union Manipur (ZSUM) said in a release that his tireless contribution and efforts for the people of Zeliangrong will remain forever in the history of Zeliangrong, it stated. The ZSUM salutes the indomitable moral spirit for laying down his life for the cause of the people. Such vicious acts of the opponent will never succeed.
The Zeliangrong Students Union Delhi and the Zeliangrong Welfare Association Delhi issued a joint statement condemning the “murder” of Abonmai and stated: “This day, the 22nd of September, 2021 will be remembered as a black-letter day by the Zeliangrong and will be written on the purple page of the Zeliangrong history. This horrific villainous act suspected to be committed by NSCN (IM) who works for the greater cause of the Nagas impugned the principles and motive of the organization. Such anarchic action is jarring and every right citizen should condemn such barbaric act of assassination”.
Meanwhile, the United Committee Manipur (UCM) demanded the state government to bring out the facts behind the death of Athuan Abonmai.
It is unfortunate that such an incident could happen in the midst of a public gathering amid tight security, stated UCM in a release on September 23. Athuan Abonmai was a leader who played a vital role to maintain the unity of the state and the brotherhood of different communities living in Manipur, UCM stated.
The Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) condemning the killing of Athuan Abonmai in the strongest terms stated that KIM and its frontal organisations were shocked to learn of the death of Athuan Abonmai. KIM stated that he was a harbinger of peace and harmony among the people of Manipur and his death is an irreparable loss not only to his family members and the Zeliangrong community but also to the people of Manipur.
The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) also strongly condemned the cowardly act of assassination that ended the life of Athuan Abonmai and said, “It is a great shame that NSCN (IM), which seeks justice in the name of Christ, should act in such a contradictory and cowardly manner against a civilian”.
A release by KNO has cautioned the Central government to closely re-examine the political claims of the NSCN (I-M) before finalising any deal with them, taking note of their modus operandi of threats and killings against any leader of communities they forcibly want to subdue under Naga political identity.
As many as other 15 CSOs in Manipur including AMKIL, UPF, NIPCO, UPACCO, Mapi-Council, CADA, Nongpok Leingak, NIMPAL, ANUL, Thoubal Ima, Nupi Samaj, Tammi-Chingmi, EECHAL, THANIL and UMO September 24 decided to support the JAC demand for justice against the brutal killing of Athuan Abonmai.
Speaking to the media on Friday at the office of AMSU in Imphal, president in-charge of AMKIL L Nganbi said abduction of Abonmai from a high security zone, where the chief minister is attending a function is a big ‘shame’ to the state government.
President of NIPCO, Th Manihar who also attended the press briefing said that such an attack by a suspected UG group against Abonmai, who worked and stood for the unity of Manipur, is clearly an act against the integrity of the state.
Is there a big conspiracy behind the killing of Abonmai as he was not only a leader of Zeliangrong community but also a politician who had prepared to fight in the upcoming Assembly election? NIPCO president asked.
Meanwhile, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on September 24 acknowledged security lapses during his visit to Tamenglong on September 22 and apologised to the people of the state in connection with the death of Athuan Abonmai, former president, Zeliangrong Baudi (AMN). He also said that the state government will not spare anyone involved in the killing of Abonmai, regardless of their political background.
The Chief Minister also said, if any groups in peace talk with the Centre are found involved in the hideous crime, the case will be handed over to NIA as in the murder case of late SDO Kishan along with his two staff by the NSCN (IM).
Here, few pertinent questions crop up – What action was taken up by the Lamphel Police Station in Imphal after receiving the FIR from the son of the victim? Didn’t’ the Lamphel PS report to the concerned higher officers and concerned districts police? Why the state intelligence at the Tamenglong HQ failed to know the incident of abduction and absence of Athuan Abonmai who is a high profile civil and political leader and also a key person for hosting the State Chief Minister, during the whole programme even the football match? Did the top police officers try to keep the Chief Minister who is also Home Minister of the State blind about the incident till the end of the programme?
Now, the kidnapping and killing of Athuan Abonmai who stood tall and bold working for development, coexistence, unity and integrity of Manipur shows the total failure of the State intelligence and absence of security for the citizens of the State and governance in areas beyond the State capital while the abductors and killers send a message that they can attack whoever, wherever, whenever they want and eliminate those who work for development, coexistence, unity and integrity of Manipur; and stand against their agenda.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics