India’s militarized Nagaland calls for an end to military sanctions

OTING, India – Technically, there is no more war in Nagaland, but peace also has no sense of certainty. What that remote state in northeastern India is full of soldiers, always holds a heavy hand and causes rising anger among residents who say change is long overdue.

Those tensions flared up in December near the hilltop village of Oting, when The Indian Army Special Forces mistook the Naga people for the insurgents and opened fire on a truck that drove them home from work at a coal mine.

Survivors say there was no warning before the bullets flew, killing six people. By late night, the death toll had risen to 13 civilians and one army soldier, when an angry mob – some armed with machetes – clashed with soldiers, who opened fire again.

Among the dead was C. Shomwang Konyak, 32, president of the village church’s youth group, who was working as a seasonal worker at a coal mine for about $15 a day.

“The Indian army killed my son,” his father, Chemwang Konyak, said in an interview in his yard. “He is not an underground rebel, not an underground supporter. There is no movement of underground rebel cadres here.”

Nagaland, a state of more than two million people, was once a battleground, the site of a separatist insurgency that has lasted more than five decades. But a truce was made 25 years ago, and has mostly been held ever since. Local officials and residents say the area around Oting has been peaceful for years.

But a heavy military occupation remains, allowed under a special power law that the Indian government has been reluctant to return to. Residents complain that the lack of punishment for soldiers has exposed them to abuse and that the military’s presence has hindered law enforcement and local governance – and led to fatal mistakes like the one in Oting. .

The killings prompted widespread and renewed protests over the measure, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, introduced in the 1950s as a newly independent India had to face faced waves of insurrection and rebellion, especially in the northeast.

Most of that has ended – or, as in Nagaland, has calmed down in recent years. But the act of special powers remains the law of the land in two full states and one territory, and in parts of two other states, where there are similar complaints about local governance. thwarted and fear pervaded.

Sanjay Barbora, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who wrote: “There is no logic to this form of militarization in an area where you have to cease fire and where you pretend that you have democracy. widely on counterinsurgency efforts in the northeast. “It empowers everyone to wear uniforms and allows the military to do as they please.”

The people of Nagaland have been in limbo since 1997, when a ceasefire broke out between separatist rebels and the military, but left both sides armed and holding out.

Negotiations for a permanent peace agreement began, but 25 years later, there is still no final agreement. Rebel groups have not been eliminated, but are allowed to control the fiefs as long as they are not targeting soldiers. Depending on where they live, residents can face harassment from both the military and rebels.

“There are a lot of factions in the underworld, and they are also running their own government with impunity,” said SC Jamir, who served as governor of Nagaland for the past 15 years and four terms. “The public remains silent on all issues because they fear gun culture.”

In Nagaland and other areas under special powers laws, the military still has the power to search, arrest, and open fire without warrants or charges, and soldiers are almost entirely immune from such actions. legal action.

While the armed forces in Nagaland have carried out significantly fewer raids and operations in recent years, residents say refusing to remove special power measures creates an environment Fear and harassment on a daily basis make it newsworthy only when a fatal mistake happens. Many describe the humiliation of being treated like second-class citizens, and constantly being watched by an outside force that the local elected government regularly monitors.

K. Elu Ndang, general secretary of a local tribal group in Nagaland, said: “There are random searches and searches going on everywhere – without prior information, they come, they assault”. “It’s very inconvenient for the public – it’s mental torture.”

The December murders in Oting sparked protests against the act, commonly known as the AFSPA. Calls to abolish it have come from activists and peace marchers, but also from allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Nagaland, including the prime minister of the state. In late December, the Nagaland State Parliament unanimously passed a resolution calling for the law’s repeal.

The site of the murder, a narrow stretch of dirt road lined with bamboo groves on each side, became an instant showcase of the perils of militarization and a protest camp against it. Burned army vehicles were tied up by police tapes. The ambushed truck was covered with bullet holes on the windshield and blood stains on the seats. The area was strewn with protest banners: “STOP KILLING WITHOUT CONSTRUCTION,” some read.

Chongmei Konyak, 43, said his left foot was hit after the initial ambush. He served in the army for 15 years and was working in the coal mines that day.

“Why does the Indian Army kill innocent people in the name of AFSPA?” Mr. Konyak spoke from his hospital bed. “They’re keeping the insurgency alive.”

General Manoj Mukund Naravane, Commander of the Indian Army, called the episode “very regrettable” and said an investigation was underway.

“Based on the findings of the investigation, appropriate action will be taken,” Naravane told reporters this month.

There is controversy over why it took so long to reach a final peaceful resolution. One of the sticking points has to do with boundaries, with the Nagas wanting to incorporate pieces of territory that have been added to neighboring countries. Such territorial disputes among the northeastern states have recently lead to a deadly clash.

While the Nagas refuse their demands for complete autonomy, are willing to share sovereignty and allow the central government to control certain issues such as defense and foreign policy, some analysts considered the slow response of the Indian state as a strategy of waiting for the Nagas to leave. The rebel factions continued to vie for resources, and the old generation died down.

GK Pillai, who was involved in the negotiations as India’s home secretary from 2009 to 2011, said he had repeatedly recommended the abolition of special military powers for the sake of Nagaland.” is peaceful, or perhaps more peaceful than many places, including Delhi.”

Mr. Pillai said that distrust between the two sides could only grow if a final deal is struck, in part due to actions by the Indian government elsewhere in the country.

Modi government in 2019 unilaterally revoke state status of Jammu and Kashmir, another contested and protestant region with a dense military presence, and placed it under the central government without engaging with the local elected assembly. Political leaders who have for more than decades sided with the republic of India in the face of militants and separatist groups have been jailed or placed under house arrest, while the military strengthens further. his grip.

Mr. Pillai said the unilateral move in Kashmir made Nagas concerned that the Indian state could easily reverse any concessions it made.

“How can you make a decision affecting my sovereignty without my consent?” Mr. Pillai said. “They are reassessing ‘shared sovereignty.’ ”

During the years of relative peace under the ceasefire, young Nagas sought employment in other parts of India. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the urban economy that has forced a reverse exodus. In Nagaland, many young men are returning to a home where peaceful years have brought little development, but a delayed peace subject to military and rebel abuse.

“People are very clear that it is not a military issue,” said Mr Ndang, the tribal leader. “But if the current negotiations don’t bring any solution and solution to the problem, then the next generation will be a different movement.”

Hari Kumar reported from Oting, India and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi. India’s militarized Nagaland calls for an end to military sanctions

Fry Electronics Team

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