Furious protests over the killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland’s remote Mon district earlier this month – during and after an Army counter-insurgency op that went horrifically wrong – have now spread to state capital Kohima.
The influential Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) has organised a massive rally in the city, which has seen thousands take to the streets to demand justice for those who died and the repeal of the controversial AFSPA, or Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
Today’s gathering – visuals showed large numbers of people standing peacefully with banners and placards – are significant not just because it is the third straight day of protests, but also because it signals a steady escalation of the Naga people’s outrage.
What began as a ‘non-cooperation movement’ by the Konyak Union (the Konyak Naga tribe’s top body) in Mon spread Wednesday, with the Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation taking up the fight.
The ENPO, like the Konyak Union, resolved to “abstain from any national celebrations”, promised “non-participation in Army civic programmes” and said it would not allow recruitment drives in the area.
Yesterday those protests in the eastern part of the state intensified – there was a dawn-to-dusk bandh in Mon district, government and private offices were shut, and vehicular traffic disrupted.
Apart from Mon district, protests hit Kiphire, Tuensang, Noklak, and Longleng districts in the eastern part of the state, where shops were shuttered and angry residents flooded streets.
Protests across the state have highlighted the immediate arrest of the soldiers involved in the botched Army op as one of their demands. They have also demanded Home Minister Amit Shah withdraw a “false” and “fabricated” statement given in Parliament on December 6.
Mr Shah had said the Army unit opened fire because the truck carrying the villagers accelerated when ordered to stop. The soldiers, suspecting insurgent activity, opened fire, he said. The comments triggered more furious protests in Mon, where people burned effigies of Mr Shah.
Either way, in the initial burst of murderous fire, six villagers were killed.
No arms or ammunition were recovered from them, or from the truck, and all those in the vehicle were found to be innocent coal miners returning from work.
In violence over the next 48 hours, eight more villagers and a soldier died.
The Army has expressed its regret over the killings and an internal investigation is underway, while the soldiers involved face a murder case filed by Nagaland Police.
The killings have refocused the spotlight on AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to military personnel in “disturbed regions”. Protesters fear it will be invoked to protect soldiers involved.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma have led calls for AFSPA to be repealed, both in their respective states and across the northeast.
AFSPA is in place in Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (excluding capital Imphal) and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, as well as Jammu and Kashmir. It has been scrapped in Tripura and parts of Meghalaya.