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Nagaland Killings: 'Off with AFSPA' Outcry Echoes in Northeast

Coffins of the civilians who were killed in Nagaland when a counterinsurgency operation allegedly went awry. (News18)

Coffins of the civilians who were killed in Nagaland when a counterinsurgency operation allegedly went awry. (News18)

Among those who have made the demand are chief ministers of Nagaland and Meghalaya, both BJP allies.

Following the killing of 14 civilians in Mon district of Nagaland allegedly by Assam Rifles personnel last week, several political leaders, student bodies, civil society groups and activists from the Northeast have been demanding the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, alleging excesses by security forces under the cover of the law.

In front of the Naga public at the funeral services at Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district of those killed, chief minister Neiphiu Rio said, “The sacrifices of 14 innocent Konyak brothers would not be forgotten. All are remembered in the history of Naga political movements. They have sacrificed their lives for our Naga causes. We will make a decision in the cabinet regarding the repeal of the AFSPA in our state. We will forward our cabinet decision to the Centre to repeal the draconian law from our Nagaland… There can be many laws that can handle (the situation). But this has blackened the image of our country."

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The violence

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At least 13 civilians and an Assam Rifles trooper were killed and 14 others injured in a series of violent clashes in Mon district after an army operation to target Naga insurgents went wrong late on Saturday, officials said. The death toll of civilians rose to 14 after one more was gunned down by the forces after villagers staged a protest against the killings and a 24-year-old jawan from Uttarakhand lost his life during the clash.

Addressing reporters after attending the funeral services of the civilians, chief minister Rio said, “I have spoken to the union home minister and he is taking the matter very seriously. The Centre will be providing an ex gratia assistance of Rs 11 lakh and the state Rs 5 lakh to the kin of the deceased.”

The Mon district police on Monday filed suo moto FIR against 21 paramilitary forces, calling the killings “murder" by the forces. The officials have said that the unit didn’t ask for a police guide for operations and the “intention was to murder".

Following the violence, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma tweeted, “AFSPA should be repealed.”

Speaking to News18, he said, “I will personally take up with Amit Shah the matter of repealing AFSPA. Coalition is a different issue, matters like these are a different issue. We as a party and as an individual I feel it should be repealed. My father PA Sangma had the same stand too."

The Meghalaya chief minister went on to state that incidents like these showed that such laws do not have a place in society today.

The demands assume significance as Rio’s party NDPP and Sangma’s party NPP are allies of the BJP.

Clamour grows

The North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), the umbrella body of several unions in the region including Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Mizo Zirlai, Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), All Boro Student Union (ABSU) and All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), demanded the withdrawal of AFSPA from the Northeast.

NESO adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya said, “The government should remove and repeal AFSPA from the Northeast if it is concerned about the welfare and well-being of the people. Otherwise, it will only further alienate the citizens of the region. NESO will continue the protest till the removal of the draconian law from our region."

This incident of Mon district brings back horrific memories of the past where the security forces have on numerous occasions massacred and tortured the innocent villagers and even raped the women folk for days in the name of fighting insurgency. NESO feels that the Government of India does not want peace to prevail in the Northeast so that it can continue with its plan to militarise the region and suppress the voice of the indigenous people through military power,” NESO said.

The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) also demanded the withdrawal of the law from the region. Speaking to News18, APCC working president Jakir Hussain Sikdar said, “The Centre should repeal AFSPA from our region. The incident in Mon district shows the ground realities of the said law and we lost 14 innocent civilians from Konyak society.”

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has constituted a delegation to visit Nagaland and report on the matter. The delegation comprises AICC general secretary Jitendra Singh, AICC Nagaland incharge Dr Ajoy Kumar, Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi and MP Anto Antony.

Asom Jatia Parishad (AJP) condemned the Mon district violence. AJP general secretary Jagadish Bhuyan said, “The central government should remove the draconian law from the Northeast immediately.”

Nagaland DGP files report on violence over ‘funeral confusion’

Nagaland’s director general of police (DGP) T John Longkumer has filed his report on another incident of violence that claimed the life of a civilian on Sunday, after the 13 civilian killings on Saturday evening. The DGP said the violence broke out after “confusion" concerning the date of the mass funeral service for those who were killed in Saturday’s firing.

The bodies of the deceased had been shifted to Mon town from Oting on Sunday for the funeral but it was postponed to 10am on Monday.

“However, no clear announcement was made on the postponement of the funeral service. This led to confusion among the crowd that had gathered for the funeral service at the helipad in Mon town. The mob then reached the periphery of the camp and got violent, throwing stones, vandalizing properties and setting fire to three buildings within the post. The Assam Rifle personnel resorted to blank firing which agitated the mob further. The district administration and police officials tried to reason and pacify the mob but were outnumbered by the mob which by then had around 600-700 people armed with sticks, pipes, flammable fluids and a few of them had machetes or daos. After almost an hour into the melee, the second round of continuous firing by the Assam Rifles resulted in the mob running for safety and protection. After the firing ceased, one protester by the name of Shri Leong of Chi village was confirmed to be dead on the spot and 6 (six) others sustained bullet wound injuries, including one IR personnel of 11 IRB, Aboi, who were shifted to district hospital,” the DGP’s report said.

About AFSPA

To bring the situation under control in conflict-wracked areas, AFSPA was initially implemented in the Northeast followed by Punjab on September 11, 1958. This law empowers military personnel to use force even to the extent of causing death, destroy structures used as hideouts, training camps or from where attacks are likely to be launched and arrest anyone without a warrant. In Jammu and Kashmir, a separate law, Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, has been in place since July 5, 1990.

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AFSPA is in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur (excluding Imphal Municipal Council area), Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang, Longding, Tirap districts and areas falling within eight police stations at the Assam border. Nagaland has been under AFSPA for almost six decades.

On June 30 this year, the ministry of home affairs extended the applicability of AFSPA in Nagaland by a period of six months after declaring the entire state a “disturbed area".

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first published:December 06, 2021, 21:42 IST