A Manipur woman was shocked to see the name of a one-month-old infant, whom she knew, appear on social media posts as a “victim” of the ethnic violence that began on May 3.
Bisoya Loitongbam, 41, knew the infant as she had donated Rs 1 lakh for the treatment of Hirschsprung disease, a birth defect in which some nerve cells are missing in the large intestine.
The infant had been already under treatment at a hospital in the state capital Imphal for three weeks before May 3, the SOS note sent to prospective donors show. May 3 was the day clashes broke out between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis.
“I got a call from the top district official on May 7 about a baby who needs to be admitted to a good hospital with advanced equipment. The next day I immediately sent Rs 1 lakh. I got to know from the doctors that the baby unfortunately died after surgery on May 9,” Ms Loitongbam told Newsbust India on phone from Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow, where she is based.
She showed Newsbust India a screenshot of the money she sent using UPI for the infant’s surgery.
Ms Loitongbam is the national lead of the massively successful ’10BedICU’ project, founded by former Aadhaar chief technology officer (CTO) Srikanth Nadhamuni. The project is being run in many states and also supported by state governments. The project started in March 2021 amid the Covid pandemic to create intensive care unit (ICU) infrastructure in rural and smaller government hospitals.
“I feel extremely sad. People have to use the death of a baby in their hate posts when it had nothing to do with the violence. I can’t imagine what the doctors who treated the baby must be feeling,” Ms Loitongbam said, adding she has been deeply involved in medical philanthropy and sourcing medicines for the weaker sections. “I wish all of us should now focus on how to resolve the humanitarian crisis,” she added.
“Politicising Emotive Issues”
In a post on X, Ms Loitongbam asked people to stop “politicising emotive issues” and “destroying whatever humanity” is left.
The social media posts on the mass burial of 87 people from the Kuki-Zo tribes in Churachandpur district alleged the one-month-old infant was killed by mobs in Imphal valley. Of the 87 bodies, 41 were airlifted from morgues in Imphal months after the violence broke out.
The SOS note sent to prospective donors says the infant was first admitted to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal in the second week of April. His parents came from the hill district Churachandpur.
However, following the outbreak of violence on May 3, the parents took shelter in a relief camp set up by the 2nd Manipur Rifles. The next day, i.e. May 4, the relief camp officials rushed the baby to Mother’s Care Children Hospital and Research Centre as he needed surgical intervention. The parents were evacuated from Imphal in the next two days. They reached Churachandpur, but later could not return to Imphal to be with their baby due to the violence, hospital sources said.
“The father of the baby… is just a farmer and has lost all their belongings during the sudden shifting from RIMS to 2nd MR (Manipur Rifles) relief camp. Under no circumstances he is able to pay for the treatment… There is a need for financial assistance to save the life of the baby,” the SOS to the donors read. Newsbust India has seen the note.
Three days later, the District Commissioner – “a mother herself” – contacted Ms Loitongbam if she could help.
Hospital Warns Of Action
The management of Imphal-based Mother’s Care Children Hospital and Research Centre, where the infant was treated, today told Newsbust India they are discussing taking criminal defamation action against those – especially social media influencers – who shared and circulated the fake information.
“The doctor was very upset. We all tried our best to save the baby. It is not right to use the death of a baby who suffered a serious congenital disease as a propaganda tool. We are doctors. All human lives are the same for us,” a top officer of the hospital management said, requesting anonymity.
The officer said the hospital has kept the medical case files of the infant for further action against those who floated the malicious allegations.
After the infant died, the parents did not come to take the body due to the volatile situation, and so the hospital handed over the body to the authorities. The ethnic clashes had cut off valley and hill areas, preventing families from Churachandpur from identifying and taking back the bodies kept in Imphal morgues. The Meiteis in the valley also could not visit any hill areas to claim the bodies – many are still missing – of their loved ones.