By Krishna Jha
There was no last minute reprieve. The men were in the pickup truck that kept winding the narrow road climbing up slowly. Unarmed, each of them saw the guns flickering, and in one single moment the horror swept them away for ever. Soon, all of them, drenched in blood, were left dead, excepting two, still struggling for life. Miners in Tiru valley coal fields, they were residents of Oting village in Mon district of Nagaland where live Konyak Nagas. Those who killed them were para commandos of Indian army. They were based in Jorhat, tried to ambush those said to be insurgents moving in the area. Information came from army intelligence. Yet the bloody initiative had its gaps.
Why there was no attempt to arrest them alive, and that too when they could not have escaped. The terrain itself did not allow that. If they were insurgents as the intelligence claimed, there was no provocation at all, nor any movement, especially, not within the country. The local police and the Assam Rifles were never given any clue about the action the para commandos were to undertake. Was it all planned to be a ‘surgical Strike’? In fact an ambush is usually taken up as action plan when the enemy is much stronger. But it was definitely not an inferior force and hence there was no question of ‘Hit and Run’, a tactics usually adopted in an ambush. One of the two survivors had said according to the report that the commandos had dragged the bodies out and dumped them on the road including that of his brother. All this leads one to understand that there was plenty of time and huge number of assault resources.
From the available information, it is clear that the plan was to eliminate each one to make a clean sweep. But soon it came to light that it was not a victory but a great tragedy. The victims were unarmed innocent villagers employed at Tiru coal mines. Six of them brutally killed while in the truck itself. More were injured and killed when agitated Konyak villagers attacked first those in the ambush, and then an Assam rifles post. One army trooper got killed. In fact states in north east have often witnessed violent insurrections and brutal counterinsurgency laws like the armed forces (special powers) Act, (AFSPA), 1958. In Manipur, immense discontent erupted against AFSPA and from the particular area, AFSPA had to be removed as the mass agitation had erupted strongly against it.
Union home minister said in Rajya Sabha that ‘vehicle was signalled to stop’ and was ‘fired upon as it tried to flee’. One among the survivors said that they were not trying to flee, that they were just in the vehicle waiting the firing to stop. Both were taken to hospital with serious injuries almost ten hours after the incident. According to the hospital sources, the survivors were given protection by a team of Assam police. The district administration and police officials of Mon and Nagaland police also visited them. The hospital staff said they did not know earlier who the injured men were but when the news became viral about the killing, they decided to upload the photos of those unknown miners admitted in the hospital on social media, and succeeded to link with their village. That is how the news came out.
In fact the fake encounter killings have been in the vogue. Those involved in counterinsurgency, have known through experience that such lesser known ‘crimes’ fetch none or almost zero legal reactions or consequences. Killing of the so called insurgents has fetched till today, only grief, anger and frustration, but no action. It is even taken as wild, lawless territories, and are part of the game. It may be noted that all significant insurgent groups are in peace talks with government in Nagaland. They have also arrived at a ceasefire agreement. There are crimes like extortions, intimidations violating the ceasefire agreement, but they are only violations of ground rule, not challenges to the state of India.
It is possible that the Naga underground faction reportedly involved must be among those yet to enter into the ceasefire agreement. Reports indicate this is the faction led by Yung Aung, the nephew of NSCN-K founder, the late S.S. Khaplang. But Yung Aung has its support base in Myanmar. Historically, it was only one group that started the agitation in Nagaland, led by Naga National Council of A.Z. Phizo. This group entered into a peace agreement with the Government of India in 1975 as the Shillong Accord.
A group calling itself the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), broke away in protest, in 1980. But the NSCN also split into two, violently, in 1988, with S.S. Khaplang, a Myanmar Naga, leading one faction and the other led by Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu. Among the two, the Khaplang group faced several splits. Within the group, there were Indian and Myanmar Nagas who got the group divided among themselves in several factions. The faction led by the Indian Nagasare engaged in the ongoing ceasefire process. In 2017, Khaplang passed away, and Khango Konyak became the leader of the NSCN-K, an Indian Naga. Soon after, in 2018, Khango Konyak faced impeachment and Yung Aung took over. Khango Konyak came back to India and was in the ongoing ceasefire which is supposed to be in the final stages.
It is imperative for the peace process to be finalised uninterrupted, but the tragedy has its own deep impact. The resolution of the crisis depends on the state of India, especially in assuaging the hurt feelings of the Naga masses. As the last resort, the state has to say sorry, reflecting the sincere bid to share the tragedy. (IPA Service)