A year after peace activist's murder in Manipur, remembrance held for justice

The Asian Age.  | Rajib Chowdhuri

India, All India

The victim was Athuan Abonmai, a popular figure from Zeliangrong community and the former president of apex Zeliangrong Baudi

Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh speaking during the function to commemorate Athuan Abonmai in Imphal. (DC/AA)

Kolkata: Manipur, one of the key North Eastern states of the country, witnessed a unique assembly– commemoration of the first anniversary of a prominent peace activist's murder by the insurgents– recently for justice amid resumption of peace talks between the Centre and NSCN(IM).

The victim was Athuan Abonmai, a popular figure from Zeliangrong community and the former president of apex Zeliangrong Baudi (Assam, Manipur and Nagaland). He hailed from Tamenglong, one of the insurgency-affected districts in Manipur and appeared to have traits of Manipuri icons including Rani Gaidinliu.

Abonmai was a brave voice against the NSCN(IM), which always resisted regional development and socio economic progress with a history of dictatorial rule including extortion and nefarious activities. He also advocated for peace and unity, becoming a mentor for many including the children.

On September 22 in 2021 Abonmai was found lying shot dead hours after his abduction allegedly by the NSCN(IM) militants in broad daylight from near the entrance of the venue of a state government programme he was going to attend in his hometown.

The killing portrayed the heinous design and thirst of NSCN(IM) for blood and power without any thought for the people’s cause and scant regard for not just other regional communities like the Kukis but also other tribes within the Naga community.

A year after Abonmai's murder, a solemn ceremony in his memory was organized by his family and a joint action committee, seeking justice into his gruesome killing. The remembrance drew a turnout of nearly 2000 people, much to the event organizers' surprise, at Tarung in Imphal on September 22 this year.

It garnered support from many Manipur-based civil society bodies and a large number of villagers who travelled from Lamlaba, the native place of Abonmai in Tamenglong, to pay homage to their hero and demand justice into his murder which showed that his memory is still fresh in his community.

Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh, who also attended the event, paid his tribute to the slain peace activist and recalled their past association. Appealing for a communal harmony among all in the state, he also assured justice into Abonmai's murder. In reality, though a NIA probe has been underway in the case, eight accused who were directly involved in the crime are suspected to be under the protection of NSCN(IM).

As the younger generations of Zeliangrong find motivation in Abonmai's legacy to fight NSCN(IM), which might have had a temporary victory in hampering peace in Zeliad region over the murder, the hometurf of the community also waits to see their unity to thwart the underground outfits.