OUTCRY AGAINST 'SPECIAL POWERS' AFTER NAGALAND MASSACRE

Naga

by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex

Northeast India’s conflicted state of Nagaland, on the Burmese border, is seeing a mass public outcry against long-standing emergency measures in the wake of an army massacre of civilian mine workers.

On Dec. 4, army and paramilitary troops laid an “ambush” on a passing truck near the village of Oting, Mon district. They apparently opened fire when the truck driver did not obey orders to stop. According to initial reports, the troops believed the truck was carrying a unit of one of the militant groups that have for generations waged an insurgency seeking independence for Nagaland. In fact, the truck was carrying coal miners returning from work. At least 14 were killed.

The massacre sparked an immediate upsurge among the villagers of the area, who vented their rage at the security forces. In this violence, nine more people were killed, including one member of the Assam Rifles. This is an official paramilitary force from the neighboring state of Assam that has been called in to assist the national army in policing Nagaland.

Since the bloody incident, the state has seen continuing protests and strikes demanding repeal of India’s 1958 Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the military broad power to conduct raids and use deadly force without judicial review. The AFSPA is now in force in areas of four Northeastern states: Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. It is in effect throughout the small state of Nagaland.

Civil society and student groups declared a bandh, or general strike, to protest the AFSPA, which effectively shut down the Nagaland state capital of Kohima on Dec. 6.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has now joined the chorus of civil society groups and human rights organizations that have long been demanding repeal of the AFSPA. Paying tribute to the victims on Dec. 6, Rio made a strong statement against the law.

The Nagaland state government has also declared compensation of five lakh rupees (about $6,500) to each victim family, and is demanding an independent judicial investigation of the massacre.

The outcry has spread to other states of the Northeast. At a candlelight vigil for the fallen in Meghalaya capital Shillong, the state’s former chief minister Conrad K. Sangma also called on the Union government to repeal the draconian act. Stressing that his state managed to subdue insurgencies despite the AFSPA never having been imposed there, he pledged to take the issue up with India’s Home Minister Amit Shah.

Amit Shah made his own statement to Parliament, admitting that the massacre was a case of mistaken identity. Shah said that the Centre expresses regrets over the incident and offers condolences to the victim families. A special investigation team has been called to examine the matter, and is to submit its report within one month, he added.

Such measures have not appeased the anger in Nagaland. The Konyak Union, the tribal body for the indigenous people of Mon, declared their own bandh, demanding not only repeal of the AFSPA but the withdrawal of the Assam Rifles from the district. Other Naga tribal bodies have also called strikes in their areas.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), the most significant rebel formation in the state, harshly condemned the massacre in a statement, calling Dec. 4 a “black day for the Nagas.”

Nagaland has seen nearly continuous armed insurgency since Indian independence in 1947, with rebel groups seeking the remote and ethnically distinct state’s own independence from India. In recent years, the state has also seen the emergence of a strong civil society movement demanding both the lifting of emergency measures and a peace deal to finally end the insurgency. But the NSCN statement said that peace talks will not be possible under the shadow of AFSPA.

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Nava Thakuria is an independent journalist based in northeast India.

Photo: Naga Student Union Delhi via My Nagaland

From our Daily Report:

India: Northeast marks 2021 without journo-murder
CounterVortex, Dec. 3, 2021

India: Naga rebels divided over peace deal
CounterVortex, Sept. 13, 2015

See also:

INDIA: 'ULTRA' TERROR EXPLODES IN NORTHEAST
by Bill Weinberg, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, October 2004

U.S.-INDIA TERROR SUMMIT: WHO IS THE ENEMY?
by Bill Weinberg, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, September 2004

Also by Nava Thakuria:

BURMA: A NEW DEMOCRATIC UPRISING
by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, February 2021

JOURNO-MURDER SURGE IN INDIA
by Nava Thakuria, CounterVortex
CounterVortex, December 2020

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Special to CounterVortex, Dec. 9, 2021
Reprinting permissible with attribution