A conglomerate of apex bodies of six Naga tribes has announced “non-cooperation” with the Indian Armed Forces until their demands, including repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, are met.
The unprecedented stand of the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization (ENPO) in response to “unprovoked” killing of 14 innocent civilians by the Army on December 4 in Mon district of the North-Eastern state is likely to have a serious ramification on the ongoing Naga peace process and overall socio-political situation in the state.
Besides the withdrawal of the AFSPA from the entire North-Eastern region, the other two demands of the ENPO are that the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s ‘self defence’ statement in Parliament be withdrawn and that the Army personnel involved in the killings should be booked under relevant laws of the country and be tried in a civil court.
Until its demands are met, the central armed forces would not be allowed to carry out any activities, including holding of recruitment rallies, development activities and patrolling in Mon, Tuensang, Longleng, Kiphire and Noklak districts, the areas where ENPO’s writ large.
The ENPO has also asked the Naga customary bodies to cancel the land agreements made to set up security camps in the aforesaid districts. In Nagaland, the land is owned by the people and not the government, and the customary bodies are the custodian of the land. Article 371 (A) of the Constitution validates the customary land holding rights of the Naga people.
Such non-cooperation would make peaceful coexistence of the security forces with the local civilian population extremely difficult and may also lead to confrontation.
“Security forces will be solely responsible for any untoward incident that might occur if they venture out of their bases,” said W Manwang Konyak, secretary of the ENPO, an umbrella organisation of apex tribal bodies of Konyak, Chang, Sangtam, Khiamniungan, Yimchunger and Phom tribes.
A senior state government official, on the condition of anonymity, said that the situation has now turned very sensitive and any false move at this juncture could lead to a major flare up.
Earlier, the Konyak Union, a constituent of the ENPO, gave a similar non-cooperation call in protest against the killings.
The toughening of stand by influential tribal bodies over the incident assumes further significance as the killing has already cast an ominous shadow on the ongoing peace process between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isack-Muivah) to resolve over seven decades of the Naga political problem.
“No political talks will be meaningful under the shadow of the AFSPA. Let human dignity take control and be made an integral part of the Naga political peace process. Unfortunately, the Oting’s killing has become a threat to the Nagas’ longing for Naga political solution,” the NSCN (IM) said in a statement.
“Therefore, placed under this compelling situation, NSCN put on record that ‘enough is enough’…….. Now if the Government of India (GoI) wants to do justice to the Naga people, the AFSPA must be immediately withdrawn and investigation for proper prosecution must be immediately constituted,” it further added.
A team of 21 Para-commandos opened fire on a group of miners returning home after work in a vehicle in Oting area of Mon district, mistaking them to be insurgents, killing six and injuring several others.
After hearing the gun shots, local villagers rushed to the spot and confronted the security forces and torched a few vehicles, prompting the commandos to open fire again. Seven more civilians died and many were injured in the resultant firing. The Indian Army said one of its soldiers was also killed and a few others were injured.
The Army’s version of “mistaken identity” raised questions as to how an elite commando unit moved into action based on such poor intelligence inputs to mistake common civilians as militants. Its role also came under scanner for trying to remove the bodies from the spot.
As per the accounts of some villagers, the security forces even tried to dress slain miners in Army’s camouflage fatigues to brand them as militants.
To protest against the killings and to seek justice, the ENPO will also hold public rallies in the six districts on Thursday (December 16).
Significantly, even the Naga Hoho, the apex body of all the Naga tribal bodies, is contemplating similar non-cooperation to press for the withdrawal of the AFSPA and to provide justice to those killed in the botched-ambush.
“I appreciate the ENPO’s stand. All the Naga tribal bodies, political parties and the state government should also endorse this,” said Naga Hoho adviser Chuba Ozukum.
He said the December 4 incident would not have taken place if the government of India was sincere in resolving the Naga problem. “If it really cared, the draconian laws such as the AFSPA, which provides impunity to the security forces against excesses committed on the civilians, would not have been there.”
Faced with the precarious situation that has the potential to snowball into a major standoff between armed forces and the tribal bodies, all eyes are now on the beleaguered state government, which has convened a one-day special session of the state assembly on December 20 amidst growing demand for repeal of the AFSPA.
The special session will discuss the Naga political problem vis-a-vis the ongoing peace process between Naga militant groups and the Centre. It’s also expected to adopt a resolution, urging Centre to withdraw the AFSPA from the state.