Yet another year is coming to an end, and unlike the past two, we did not have to be worried about the dreaded COVID-19 this year. After two years, we travelled again, didn’t worry about quarantines and tests, and, most importantly, returned to our lives.
I wish I could say the same about Oting residents.
Last December, we were looking forward to the Hornbill Festival. We had, in fact, also sent our social media lead Along Phom to join our correspondent Medolenuo Ambrocia and do stories on the festival. We all know what happened next: on the night of December 4, 2021, security forces ambushed “militants”, or so they thought. As it turned out, the security forces had killed innocent civilians returning home after weeks of back-breaking work to spend the festive season with their families.
What was to be a festive occasion turned into one of the darkest chapters in Nagaland’s tumultuous history, and that is saying something. The impact it had on Nagaland’s residents was so strong that even the Nagaland president of the BJP, a party which has steadfastly supported AFSPA, Temjen Imna Along, called it a genocide.
Yet, 12 months later, I am sure I would not be called anti-national or accused of sedition if I said the victims’ families are no closer to justice.
But then, allow me to ask: what exactly would be justice here? The laws of the land, and special laws, in particular, prevent approaching this as a mere law-and-order case. Who do we blame here without being blamed in return? Should we blame the workers for walking through jungles at night on a cold December night? Or should we blame the security forces who got their inputs wrong and panicked when they realised their mistake? Should we blame the Home Minister, who, even after the Army had acknowledged their mistake, insisted that the killings were in self-defence? Should we blame the Nagaland government and the Chief Minister for how they caved in and did not fight for its people?
The thing here is this: Oting was not the first civilian massacre, and as much as I would want it, it will also not be the last. But where are the people who fight for justice? Let me play the devil here.
I am saying, no one should bother because justice will remain elusive, or at best, incomplete and dishonest.
And before someone accuses me of yet another “If you don’t agree with us you are an XXXX” term, let me explain. Do you remember Irom Sharmila? Maybe you do. If you do not, Google is there to help. But here is the thing: we didn’t forget her, we did something much worse. Thanks to those in power, Sharmila was rendered indifferent. Like an undesirable chapter of our history. Dozens made their careers on the back of Sharmila’s struggles. Yet, when she chose the path of electoral democracy, she received less than 100 votes. Today, if I were to contest from Guwahati (I cannot, and I will not, but stay with me here), I will get more votes. Over 16 years of struggle, and the return? Under 100 votes and pitiable compensation for families of the victims of the Malom massacre (Rs 5 lakh for victims’ families).
The government and our justice system are clear about civilian massacres in the Northeast: be patient, and you might get some money. But if you think those who shoot civilians should be in jail, sorry. Wrong number.
This also explains why the politicians, who were screaming for days following the Oting massacre, went silent after a few months. We saw the same when civilians were shot in Assam during the CAA protests. We will mark three years of CAA later this month. Do you think the family of Sam Stafford will ever see those who shot their child behind bars? If you think yes, I applaud your optimism but allow me to disagree.
Christmas is almost upon us. I, like several others, look to spend Christmas with those who matter the most to me: my family. But I would be lying if I said that among the bells of festivities, I will not hear the howls from Oting. I only request you to remember those innocents who wanted to celebrate the holidays with their families but could not. Maybe in a parallel world, they will receive justice. But in India, it is unlikely because we frankly do not know what justice will look like in such cases.
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