In Nagaland’s Mon district, on December 4, six coal-mine workers who were toiling hard and returning home after a six-day workweek were shot dead by the security forces from Assam Rifles. They indiscriminately opened fire on the civilians who intercepted the military vehicle after learning about the massacre. This killing of 15 civilians, in total, shocked the people of the country.
There were discussions and criticisms from various quarters about the brutal murder of the country’s people by its own military. In account of this situation, the Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat died in Coonoor helicopter crash on December 8. All the media and television debates repeatedly broadcasted General Rawat’s death and drowned people with ‘patriotism’.
In this ‘patriotic’ singing of the mainstream media, the killing of innocent Nagaland workers and the struggle of the people of Nagaland for justice was intentionally blocked out.
Background of the heartrending massacre
On December 4 at 4:30 pm, villagers who heard the terrible gunfire, at first, thought that it was a armed clash between the security forces and the rebels. They did not know that the workers who were returning home in the pick-up van were being shot by the army. When the workers, who left the mine at 3:30 pm, did not return home until 8:00 pm, impatient villagers went looking for them. But only the empty vehicle in which the workers left was standing in that area.
The vehicle was covered with blood and was bullet holed. Terrified people intercepted and questioned three passing military trucks. The army soldiers who were sitting on the truck over the tarpaulin, at first, said, ‘We don’t know anything about the workers.’ But when the tarpaulin was checked, the villagers were shocked to see the corpses of six half-dressed youths underneath. And the soldiers were sitting over those corpses.
The soldiers tried to disguise the killed civilians as rebels by altering their outfits and placed weapons near them. By seeing this, an altercation arose between the angered crowd and the soldiers. Enraged by this, the murderous army began indiscriminately shooting down the assembled villagers. Seven others were killed. The next day, two more people were killed in a protest against this massacre in front of the headquarters of the Army. The Indian Army has drowned the lives of 15 people in a pool of blood for no reason.
Issuing a statement in the Lok Sabha about the massacre, Amit Shah said, “The government of India expresses deep regret over the unfortunate incident. The vehicle was signalled to stop but it tried to flee. On suspicion of carrying extremists, it was fired upon.” He further added reasons for the next two firings following this massacre “Security forces had to resort to firing for self-defence and to disperse crowd”.
But a man who escaped the shooting said, “The army did not signal to stop the vehicle. When they saw us, they started shooting,” revealing the truth. Similarly, a BJP member who went to the spot said, “We were shot only because we saw the workers in the military vehicle”. These statements exposes the lies of Amit Shah.
It is not new for the military to shoot innocent civilians for no reason. A similar massacre took place in Nagaland on March 5, 1995. The Rashtriya Rifles army force was crossing the Kohima region of Nagaland when one of the tyres of a truck carrying soldiers exploded. Thinking of it as a bomb, the army indiscriminately attacked the people there. Seven people were massacred in that attack; Thirty-six people were injured.
We can’t even imagine such incidents. These are the conditions in which the people of the north-eastern states live. All these states have long been ruled under gun-point military dictatorship.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) : Nationalities ruled by military repression
North East India covers – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim – eight states. Before India’s socalled ‘independence’, all the seven states except Sikkim were identified as a single state (Assam). That is why these states are called “seven sisters”. Different ethnic groups are living in these seven states. Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the ‘Iron Man’, annexed these territories which functioned as separate nations with separate constitutions, flags and system of governments, to India by threatening with military forces.
The people of the north-eastern states never accepted this annexation to India through such repression. Protests began to erupt. They also took up arms against the Indian army. In 1977, an armed struggle was launched under the leadership of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to liberate Asaam. In the 1980s, bodo tribes launched an armed struggle demanding a separate state. The Naga National Council (NNC), which includes representatives from Nagaland, also launched the struggle. Various organisations like National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) rallied “We shall establish an independent Tripura”. In 1961, the Mizo National Front (MNF) was formed to establish an independent Mizoram through armed struggle.
All these armed struggles shattered the ‘Indian national unity’ created through repression. In 1958, the Government of India enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to suppress the people and organisations who were fighting for their rights and against their forcible annexation to India. Various armed groups had emerged in the north-eastern states against it. This draconian law was first enacted in Nagaland.
During the Second World War, British imperialism granted special powers to the armed forces on August 15, 1942, to suppress the Indian independence movement through military actions. In 1958, ‘Independent India’ continued this draconian British law by giving legal recognition to this special authority of the armed forces in the Parliament. They were first introduced in Assam and Manipur. Later in 1972, it was extended to Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. It was enforced in Punjab in 1983 and in Jammu and Kashmir from 1990.
Under Section 3 of the AFSPA, if a part is declared as ‘disturbed area’, armed forces must be used to assist the civil rule.
Section 4 of the AFSPA gives sweeping powers to the armed forces. It allows them to open fire, even causing to death. It gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”, and also search premises without warrants.
Section 6 of the Act further provides blanket impunity to security personnel involved in such operations: There can be no prosecution or legal proceedings against them without the prior approval of the Centre.
The Indian government is repressing various nationalities in the Northeast and ruling through military with the help of AFSPA.
63-year-long struggle against AFSPA
The massacres and the people’s struggle against them are not new to the north-eastern states, including Nagaland. These states have a long tradition of struggle that has continued for nearly 63 years. Some of these struggles were talking point all over the world.
In 2000, 10 people who were waiting at a bus stop in the town of Malom, Manipur were gunned down by the Armed Forces. Irom Chanu Sharmila (who was only 28 years old), one of the staunchest protestors against AFSPA, went on a hunger strike for nearly 16 years following this incident.
Thangjam Manorama, a woman arrested by Assam Rifles in July 2004, was found dead near her house the next morning. She had been sexually assaulted, shot in her private parts and was brutally killed. On July 15, 2004, “Mothers of Manipur” protested by stripping off their clothes in front of the headquarters of the 17th Assam Rifles and shouted “Indian army rape us!” “Drink our blood! Eat our flesh! Maybe this way you can spare our daughters!”. Action was taken only against the protestors and not against the Assam Rifles soldiers. These two struggles made the world look back.
Protests are still going on. The demand of all those who are now fighting the Oting massacre is the repeal of the AFSPA Act. On December 20, the Nagaland Legislature passed a resolution for the third time to revoke the AFSPA.
Addressing the annual session of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) through virtual mode, on November 25, Amit Shah said, “I appeal to ICC and its members to look at the northeast from a different perspective, understand the changes and invest”. The fraud in the exposed confidential Nagaland Peace Accord (Framework Agreement) showed us how Modi maintained peace in the north-eastern states.
The Modi-Amit Shah clique has been brutally suppressing protests by resorting to foxy work such as inviting them for talks in the event of protests while on the other hand arresting leaders of protesting organisations, creating clashes among different tribals and creating ethnic disparities.
The ruling class media is blacking out the struggle of the people of the north-eastern states, including Nagaland. It is the duty of revolutionary and democratic movements to expose this to the people of other states and fight together with them for justice. The military dictatorship that is trampling the voices of the north-eastern states is gaining a foothold in states like Punjab and West Bengal in the name of expansion of the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF). The saffron clique is already planning to turn Tamil Nadu into a military base. Moreover, there is a possibility to deploy military forces at any time by posing the so called “Chinese danger through Sri Lanka”.
Therefore, the working people of other nationalities, who are also being repressed by the Indian Union, should voice for the Naga people not only to recognise their right for justice, but also to fight for their right to self-determination.