Oting: At the Naga heritage village of Kisam, around 12 km from the city of Kohima, thousands of tourists — both domestic and international — have set up camps to witness the much-famed ‘festival of festivals’.
The exuberant showcasing of the Naga culture and heritage at the Hornbill Festival has created an atmosphere of escapism. And underneath this reverie, the names of the 14 people who were killed exactly a year ago, on December 4, 2021, seem forgotten.
So today, we bring to you the stories of the families whose lives were overturned after the deadly attack that killed 14 of their loved ones and affected so many more.
EastMojo travelled to Oting village under Mon district where it all began — when six coal miners were mercilessly gunned down by security forces on what was supposed to be an ambush on ‘militants’. The villagers said justice was not a concept for the families because the pain in their hearts and their losses can neither be recovered nor put into words.
The 62-year-old Leang Konyak has not gone out much since her twins – Langwang and Thapwang Konyak (25) – were gunned down by security forces last year. Justice for her is not something she can count on. Leang now spends most of her time tending to her ailing husband.
“In the evening, when it is time for people to return home from the fields, I would cry as I sit outside and wait for my sons to return,” Leang told EastMojo. “Even the sound of the church bell and people singing at the church makes me cry as I am reminded of her sons. They were active members of the church,” the 62-year-old said.
“Other people lost one person from their families. I lost two sons at once. But what’s done cannot be undone. My only wish now is to be buried next to my sons when I die, she said.
The pain that I live with every day will be over only when I am no more, she said.
Leang is not alone in her suffering.
Awat Konyak, now 44, lost her only son Manpeih way home to Oting in Mon district the same day. Manpeih was the sole bread earner of his family when he was killed at the age of 26.
Awat’s only son had met his mother a week before he was killed.
“I still keep wondering if he will return and I keep waiting for him,” she said.
What was supposed to be an eventful pre-Christmas reunion, turned into a horror story for the people of Oting that winter.
The ambush by the security forces had killed six and injured two others. Following this, in a melee over the incident with the villagers, the security forces gunned down seven more villagers and injured several others.
With this, a series of violent confrontations ensued, and eventually, the Assam Rifles resorted to another round of open firing the very next day, gunning down one more civilian.
“After this incident happened, our hearts are lost and we continue to remain the same. It happened on December 4, 2021, but it hurts us so much. Even though the army has asked to come to our village, we are not entertaining anything because we do not know the intentions of the others. We cannot take the risk. So far, the army has also not visited. We haven’t met or talked with them,” Longwang Konyak, chairman of Oting village council, said.
Oting’s Angh Tahwang Konyak also confirmed that the army had offered to help the village council in constructing a community hall, playground, water reservoir, and so on. Unlike others, however, he remains hopeful that such an incident would never happen again.
Darkest Days in Nagaland’s History
December 4-5, 2021, are now known as two of the darkest days in the history of Nagaland. They were also declared Black Day by the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization, an apex body of Eastern Naga tribes.
There were mass protests across the state demanding justice amid loud and growing demand for repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that existed even before Nagaland attained statehood.
Following the incident, the ENPO announced its non-cooperation with the Indian security forces till its demands were met, and justice was delivered to the families of 14 civilians killed on December 4-5. They demanded that security forces involved in the “gruesome killings” be booked under relevant laws and brought under the Civil Court for trial.
The ENPO had also demanded the Union Home Minister withdraw the statement he made in the Indian Parliament. It also demanded that the Government of India should revoke the draconian law, Arm Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, from the entire North Eastern States.
Nagaland was in a state of turmoil as several protests broke out over the next few months. Neighbouring states and their governments came out in solidarity with the people of Nagaland and their demands to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The situation, however, started changing after the election of Phangnon Konyak, a resident of Oting, as the first Naga woman representative in the Rajya Sabha on March 24, 2022. A month later on April 29, 2022, the ENPO withdrew its non-cooperation with the Indian army following a meeting held between the new MP Phangnon Konyak, Assam Rifles’ Inspector General Vikas Lakhera as well as officials of the ENPO and the Eastern Nagaland Students’ Federation.
While on one hand, there were political developments, on the other, the legal system was taking its own route. Nagaland police booked 30 army personnel as per the findings of the special investigation team constituted to investigate the Oting killings. However, the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings on July 19 following a plea filed by Anjali Gupta, wife of Major Ankush Gupta, who was one of the army officers charge-sheeted by the Nagaland Police.
“After filing the charge sheet in Mon court, if you recall, there was a parallel inquiry underway by the Army authorities under the Army Act, 1950, which is also called court martial in common parlance. So, thereafter, the competent Army authority approached the court, after which the CJM court had given an option to the competent Army authority where they can proceed as per the charge sheet filed by the police or they can go ahead as per the court-martial process. So, while this thing was in place, a separate writ petition was filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court by one petitioner and the petitioner had prayed for quashing the FIR of the state police and also prayed for stopping the trial process among several other demands. Accordingly, as per the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, I think on July 30 all proceedings in the case were stayed. This is what the current factual legal position is,” Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Sandeep M Tamgadge who supervised the SIT said.
While any legal proceeding on the case is now dependent on the Supreme Court’s observation over the petition, the withdrawal of the non-cooperation with the Indian Army by ENPO amid the fight for justice for the people of Oting came as a disappointment for civil societies that are still firm on their stand against the Indian Army and believe that the revocation AFSPA is the only way to avoid such instances in the future.
“We are very sorry to learn that particularly the Eastern Nagas of Nagaland have withdrawn their non-cooperation. In fact, as a civil society organisation, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) are disheartened and disappointed. However, we also understand that they must have taken the resolution for the good of the people,” NSF President Kegwayhun Tep said.
For the student body, he said that as far as justice is concerned, it has not been served and that it will continue to ensure that AFSPA is completely repealed from the state. “We all know that AFSPA has been lifted from 15 police station areas in Nagaland, Manipur and Assam and maybe it is because of this incident. However, that does not satisfy the people inhabiting the northeastern states and we feel that AFSPA is no longer required in our land,” Tep said.
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Professor Rosemary Dzüvichü of the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) and Global Naga Forum (GNF) said, “I think the follow-up of the Oting massacre, for many of us civil rights activists, has been one of the most disappointing ones for the very reason that people of the region have taken a back seat, literally, as far as justice is concerned. Even though many of us, from different organisations, the Global Naga Forum had taken it to the special rapporteur in the United Nations, different organisations had come out, rallies were held and so much pressure and lobbying were done to ensure that justice was given. And at the end of the day, what is justice? Justice is not about compensation. Justice is about the kind of punitive action brought upon the perpetrators and unfortunately, I think, the silence that we now have over Oting is a signal of what is really happening within our own communities.”
On December 4, 2022, at 3 pm, residents of Oting observed “Black Day” in remembrance of the innocent lives lost at the Public ground at Oting, organized by the Oting village council, Oting Citizen’s Forum and Oting Students’ Union.
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