Guwahati: The rousing voices against the brutal armed forces special powers act 1958 (AFSPA) gain momentum again in northeast India with the incident of Oting village in Nagaland, where 14 civilians recently lost their lives under its complicity. From local villages to State level organizations, north-eastern to national and international institutions have now come forward raising voices against the six decades long act urging its urgent repeal.
Disturbing news broke from Nagaland’s Mon district on 4 December 2021, where the security forces opened fire on a vehicle carrying a group of village youths from daily work. The military troopers, following an important input about the movement of some armed insurgents in Tiru-Oting rural area, laid an ambush. Soon the vehicle of youths arrived there and the security personnel ordered it to stop. But the vehicle did not slow down and so they fired over it suspecting insurgents were traveling in it. Six passengers inside the vehicle died on the spot and two were seriously injured. Soon after realizing the mistake that no passenger was carrying any arms or ammunition, the security personnel took the injured villagers to a nearby hospital. But the incident created massive uproars among the villagers and they even targeted the security forces in different places. Within two days, eight other villagers were killed in the protest demonstrations where a one Assam Rifles soldier also lost his life.
Joining the chorus of civil society groups, human rights organizations, political party leaders, etc of the region, Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio and his Meghalaya counterpart (Conrad K Sangma) also demanded its repeal. Paying tributes to the victims, Rio made a strong statement against the AFSPA. The issue reached the Parliament, where Union home minister Amit Shah made a statement admitting that it was a case of mistaken identity. Shah also stated that the situation in Nagaland remains critical but fully under control. He added that the Centre expresses regrets over the incident and offers condolences to the victim families. A special investigation team was formed to investigate the matter and asked to submit its report within one month, he informed. Earlier, the Army authority expressed its regret over the incident. It also constituted a probe into the incident that could spread a negative message to the peace initiatives taken up by New Delhi.
Nagaland police lodged an FIR against the security forces over the incident and the government in Kohima declared ex-gratia of rupees five lakh to each victim’s family. Even the Governor of Nagaland (also Assam) professor Jagdish Mukhi also officially condemned the incident. Northeast Students’ Organization (NESO) along with its affiliated State units including All Assam Students’ Union, Naga Student Federation, All Manipur Students’ Union, All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, Khasi Students’ Union, Garo Students’ Union, Mizo Zirlai Pawl, Twipra Student Federation, etc recently organized demonstrations against the ruthless acts of security forces taking advantage of AFSPA provisions. Participating in a television debate, anchored by journalist Manas Pratim Deka of ND24 news channel, the AASU general secretary Shankarjyoti Barua made a critical comment that New Delhi still believes ‘there is no India after Kolkata’. He declared that the indigenous people of Northeast stand in solidarity with the residents of Oting who have every right to live with dignity.
The student leader even questioned the Centre, why the AFSPA is not enforced in terror affected regions of mainland India. Another panelist Palash Changmai of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad warned that the people of Northeast would not tolerate atrocities anymore. He urged all the north-eastern chief ministers to come together demanding the repeal of AFSPA. Political analyst Adip Phukan also asked the Centre about the validity of AFSPA, which is now 63 years old. How long it will be enforced in Northeast to terrorise and kill innocent people with full impunity to the security personnel, Phukan raised the pertinent question in the show. Lately the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC, New Delhi) issued notices seeking a detailed report from the defense secretary & Union home secretary and Nagaland chief secretary & police chief over the killings of civilians in the Mon army operation. The incident triggered several other events of arson, rioting and attack on soldiers and an Assam Rifles camp, resulting in more injuries and deaths, including that of one soldier, stated the NHRC.