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kishalay [By Kishalay Bhattacharjee*]

This is a story of three little children buried without notice.

Twelve year old Lalziding, nine year old Lalmalsawn and four year old Lalrohkim died on the fifteenth of December at nine in the morning in a forest nearby their home in Senvon village.

How does it matter where Senvon is?

No officials have visited the families with coffin, wreaths, condolences or even ex-gratia. No local journalists made the effort to go there. I tried to collect information from local police stations and people I know but there was no official word on it. I explained to myself that by the time I arrive Senvon there would be nothing for me to cover so I tried reporting from the comfort of my table. Obviously there was no report. I managed nothing beyond their names. But something pushed me to try, atleast try to go to the bottom of it. By the end of the day I was exactly where I had started, with a copy of a local newspaper and an unsubstantiated page of information.

But their story must be told.

That morning the three little children were at play when they found something which intrigued them. This description is probably an assumption because they are not here to tell the tale. And others arrived only after that intriguing piece of playmaterial exploded. We still do not know the exact nature of the explosion. Was it an antipersonnel mine or a mortar shell or a grenade? Does it matter? It probably does. A concerned reader had posted this news on a social networking site and the instant reactions were that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be removed. That's the most predictable reaction to anything that happens in Manipur though there is no debate that yes the Act must be removed. But this could have happened even without the Act. So I started calling up a few people I knew in the security forces to find out whether anybody is inquiring into it. A simple inquiry can ascertain whether the explosive device was left over by security forces or one of those armed militant groups. There was another theory that the explosive may have been from the second world war stockpile. It may sound unlikely but Manipur was the theatre of the second world war and a lot of explosive is said to have been buried in places. In this case villagers said it was a Chinese grenade (its an easy guess since everything around us is made in China) and if that's the case then its probably one of the several militants groups who are responsible for the death of the three children.

My concerned friend was ofcourse more concerned about spreading awareness so that people know all about landmines. Considering that India has the fifth largest stockpile of antipersonnel mines which is estimated to be between four to five million, awareness is required but for people of Senvon how will that be possible? In the last ten years three thousand people in India are said to have lost their lives in landmines. In 2008 alone twelve deaths were reported from the state.

Meanwhile the district's Superintendent of Police was busy recruiting village defence guards. I had left a message on his phone and he got back informing me that police is yet to reach the site since its very remote and unless the team returns the information is still sketchy. That was two days after the incident. In capital Imphal this incident was considered routine.  

Senvon is a Hmar village in Tipaimukh in Manipur. Once upon a time armed separatist groups like UNLF, Prepak and later the Kuki groups lived in these liberated zones. Later security forces took over co existing with some of the groups now on ceasefire. I am not sure which one was better but a generation of people in these villages grew up with a sense of alienation and since they could not fight for their rights they thought maybe the armed groups are going to help them with it. So they paid them money and gave them food. In return they were harassed and sometimes killed.

They had no sense of entitlement so they were not even sure of their rights. Lets talk basics. I have myself reported on ghost roads, ghost schools and non- existent health centres in this district. Which means schools existed on paper, salaries were being drawn but physically the schools did not exist. Similarly, roads sanctioned years ago are still garden paths and primary health centres have become private dwellings. We reported and that was all. I am not sure even the ghosts noticed them. That's because after the death of the three children their parents could not file an FIR since the nearest police station did not have any police personnel (ghost police stations?) and since there was no FIR filed the question of a post mortem did not arise. (For a post morten they would have had to travel long distances at their own cost). Now since there was no FIR and no post mortem the question of ex gratia does not arise. But there are a lot of compassionate wellwishers in such circumstances who will now begin a series of dharna and protests to realize the compensation and then ensure a kickback. This is routine too. Just like our reports.

No candles will be fashionably lit for these three children. And after clearing my conscience that I have written about them I will move on as usual.

[*Note: The author maintains a blog ‘Heart of the Matter’ on NDTV. Courtesy: NDTV.com]

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