Like most days she was busy packing lunch box for her daughter and like most days she was running late. Little Elizabeth came running to the kitchen all dressed up for school and waiting for the school van to come pick her up. "Mama, I won't need a tiffin from tomorrow and you won’t have to prepare one," her daughter told her. She didn’t register that nor was she bothered. Who listens to the continuous ranting of a 8-year old little girl anyways. But it had been Elizabeth’s premonition of her fate. The school van honked and she hurriedly put the tiffin in the school bag and ushered her daughter to the front door. Elizabeth ran towards the school van now parked in the front gate right beyond the lawn in the front of the house while her mother looked on waving at her. Elizabeth kept her school bag in the van and in an indecisive moment, suddenly looked back to where her mother was standing, ran back all the way to her mother, hugged her and then ran again to the van to go to school that day.
And she never returned.
Alive, I mean. After a state- wide hunt her decomposed body was found in a gunny bag, taken to morgue with maggots sticking on to the stale flesh which had once been childlike soft and tender. She returned home after the formalities of post mortem at Regional Institute of Medical Scineces in a polished teak coffin. She had left this life unprepared but she sure hadn’t forgotten to say, "Bye mama".
I had no idea of who Francis Ngajokpa was so you can very well imagine how little I knew who Elizabeth was. My childhood friend, also daughter of a senior army officer, came home one evening looking distraught and told me to get ready, she wanted me to come along for a funeral. Without much delay I put on a black salwaar kameez and slipped into a sober chappal. We travelled quietly in her gypsy which headed towards Lamphel MLA quarters. It must have been not more than 4 pm. So we were heading for someone influential, I thought silently and didn’t ask my friend anything seeing her swollen eyes which had been crying for some time now. Near the gate, the gypsy halted as there were too many vehicles which had come ahead of us- mostly white staff cars and VIP vehicles. I mounted down with my friend and the first person we bumped into, on the way inside the house, was my own constituency MLA. We exchanged greetings. By now I was not knowing why we were here, was somebody important ‘dead’ or were we going for the funeral of a loved one who had been important! I followed my friend and was ushered to a large gathering in the front lawn of the house where shamiyana had been erected, there was a stage with a perfect sound equipment in place. The area had been light with tube lights. The ground was carpeted over which plastic chairs were arranged in rows. I acknowledged some media persons I knew and resigned to take my seat in the back rows. So this is how it is done among ‘MLA’s I thought.
My friend opened her mouth the first time for the evening when she told me, “Urmi, I have come to meet an old friend, the mother of the girl who was kidnapped few days ago and now there is news that her body has been found by the police, the father has confirmed it’s her in the morgue, and anytime now they will get her body here.” I suddenly felt claustrophobic for some strange reason. I hate grief because it grips me like nothing else does. I wondered why Simi, my friend chose me of all the people to come here today. She knew me long enough to do this to me. Before I could think of what next to do, she got up hastily, grabbed my hand and I found myself go towards the back of the house through the garden. There were many people. We pushed through them and we reached the house’s main corridor. To get to the bedroom we would need to cross the drawing room. When we did, I saw a man dressed in an elegant suit and I knew he must be the father because everyone was talking to him. He was confident, poised, normal, replying to everyone to keep faith and be strong. I remember he was walking, talking and in control, more than I would ever understand. I was further ushered into the house to the bedroom by Simi so I lost sight of what was going on in the drawing room. In the bedroom a woman was howling in agony. I found myself affected within no time and the three of us, I being the stranger here, faced each other, holding on to each other and crying with a grief I am yet to experience again.
The coffin arrived. All those present there went one by one to pay their last respects to the departed soul. I went too. Elizabeth became a person I know, that moment I stood peering into the glass window right over where her face was. I said a short prayer. Perhaps that’s why nine years later, and after a fruitless court case, I sit here remembering her and her misfortune.
I wish there was no such thing as ‘forgiveness’ in this world. I wish time did not make us forget to avenge the blood of someone who had been dear to us.
Lungnila Elizabeth, 8, when she was kidnapped by gun men from outside her school in Imphal on the afternoon of 4th November 2003, had only one fault, that of being the daughter of General Administrative Department Minister, Francis Ngajokpa. Till today there are rumours and gossips of old enmity between the Minister and some people from the past, when he had been the General Secretary of the UNC during the time just before the Naga Kuki clashes, where thousands of Kukis were killed. Three top ministers in the government were named as having to do a lot with the crime. There are several other whispers and suggestive discussions, but all of which do not have sufficient proof to lead anywhere, at least where law is concerned.
The kidnappers called home and a ransom of 10 Lakh rupees was demanded for the life of the little girl in captivity. The distraught mother said the callers identified themselves as members of a banned militant outfit. The kidnappers collected Rs 5 lakh as part of ransom from near Imphal Polytechnic on the fifth day and later took another 5 lakh rupees. All would have thought this was the end of the ordeal with money having been paid in time. But on the eighth day of captivity, after the ransom had been paid, on the morning of 12th November 2003, little Elizabeth’s highly decomposed body was found in a gunny bag near a pit at Sadokpam leikai, Tera in Imphal. The body was difficult to identify but her green and white school uniform helped the local people to call for teachers from Little Flower School(LFS) .Teachers who went to identify the body said it was difficult to do so as the face was swollen but when they saw the school badge, they knew this was a student from LFS. The school uniform, bag and even the ribbon on her hair were intact. Her hand was still gripping the handkerchief. The dead body was formally identified by her school friends and teachers prior to the post mortem.
Her kidnappers who are now in jail, if you are to believe are the real people who planned this crime, inform that they kidnapped her in a van and kept her in a house near a church in Kangvai Village. It’s been confirmed from their statements that little Elizabeth used to cry loudly while in captivity. This was also the reason she was shifted to another location. One of the kidnappers, Nameirakpam Romeo, in his statement confirms that Elizabeth was sexually molested by them. Elizabeth lay in the bed with blood stained clothes and bruises all over her body. In her days away from home her health deteriorated, was it because of torture or possible rape, we will never know. To keep her from crying loudly the kidnappers claim to have used sedatives which killed the child but forensic reports rubbish all such claims. Medical reports negates chloroform over dose theory as made to believe by the kidnappers to be the cause of her death as there is no trace of chemicals detected in her body. This indicates she was ‘wilfully’ killed.
The medical exam report of Lungnila says she was killed within 5 days of her kidnapping, or earlier, which means she could have been long dead even before the ransom was taken. This clearly indicates that money wasn’t the only cause for her kidnapping and her consequent murder. The medical report highlights injuries in her private parts, indicating the criminals committing felony after subjecting the little girl to sever form of torture.
The kingpin, James Kuki, was nabbed from Dimapur by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team after almost five long years from the time Lungnila was killed. The four charge sheeted on 3rd January 2008 include Thokchom Nando of Khangabok part III, Ningombam Rome Meetei of Bashikhong, Okram Deben of Langthabal and James Kuki of Matiyang Village. In January 2008 the case had 74 witnesses in all. The point to deliberate is- have we been able to find out the motive of this murder and who is the murderer, the real murderer.
There was a chaos in the state – everyone wanted to save Lungnila with no obvious consensus. It’s peculiar how the police, the underground and the cabinet all held their autonomous investigations. The State dealt with the matter in a very haphazard way. The very decision to hold search operations was incorrect in the light that it led to pressurizing the kidnappers to end her life. And then after starting the search, it was discontinued midway. It reflects the government’s inconsistency in planning and implementation. The investigating agency kept all the details of the progress of the man hunt public when some amount of confidentiality would have served better to nab the criminals.
Nine years have passed by. Nothing has moved till now. Today she would have been a 17 year old beautiful girl, had she been alive.
I came to Imphal after years. As I walk to Tera Sadokpam leikai, I feel I am going to meet an old friend today. I ask some people to take me to the place where the dead body was found years ago. It takes me long to find someone who knows. As I stand in this point, and remember a face in a teak coffin, I feel I have done my part today.
“I will never forgive them”. . . . . . . . . . . . .
- This murder took place in the state of Manipur in the north-east extreme of India
**(From the excerpts of my article on a leading English daily)
Urmila Chanam Humanitarian, having worked with the United Nations Organization Columnist/Community Development Journalist & Writer Bangalore. E-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org facebook-https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001504638037