The killing of civilians in Nagaland on 4 December, 2021, is neither the first time nor shall it be the last, that the Indian armed forces are extracting blood from the innocent subjects of the Indian State. The Indian state has deployed fully armed soldiers in Kashmir, Central India and the North-Eastern states in the name of fighting ‘militancy’, ‘Maoism’ or ‘insurgency’. They have given extra constitutional powers to these forces to enter homes, detain civilians without cause and in some cases even kill them on mere suspicion or unfounded fear. In the rest of India, where a semblance of legal democracy is practiced, the police force, foisted cases under sedition, UAPA, NSA and the tiresome judicial process are enough to silence any opposition to the exploitation of the state-capital nexus, writes Venkat T.
The killing of coal workers by the Indian Army in Nagaland, is reverberating across the world. On December 4, 2021, seven coal workers were killed and many more were severely injured when they were ambushed by the Indian army (Assam Rifles) on their way back home, near a small town in Mon district of Nagaland. Demonstrations against the Indian army by the enraged local people has only led to further firing and killings by the Army. The Army has also claimed one of its soldiers has died due to the violence indulged in by the locals. The civilian death toll in the incident has reached 14 and is increasing with each passing day.
The Army has instituted a Court of Inquiry, while the State government has constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the incidents. The police have also filed an FIR against the Army regiment and its officers for ‘murder’ of civilians.
The Army claims that it had acted on information that insurgents were moving in the region and they laid an ambush to kill them. The soldiers mistook the Bolero Pick up truck that was transporting the coal workers to home as a militant vehicle and they opened fire. While the Indian Army and the Indian State are calling this a ‘botched’ military operation and a ‘case of mistaken identity’, the people of Nagaland are united in demanding full justice to their fallen comrades and an end to Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
In the aftermath of the incident and the protests, their rights have been further curbed with severe restrictions on gatherings, meetings and even movement. The ongoing annual Hornbill festival has been suspended due to this grave tragedy.
Our stoically silent home minister, Amit Shah has termed the incident as ‘UNFORTUNATE’. Surprisingly, the Army has owned up responsibility for these killings. The Army is setting up a Court of Inquiry and the state government has constituted a Special Investigation Team. It will not be surprising if they quickly find a scapegoat to blame, punish and Move On. However, those truly guilty of this crime will never be penalised, reformed or even publicly named.
This is neither the first time nor shall it be the last, that the Indian armed forces are extracting blood from the innocent subjects of the Indian State. The Indian state has deployed fully armed soldiers in Kashmir, Central India and the North-Eastern states in the name of fighting ‘insurgency’, ‘militancy’ or ‘Maoism’. They have given extra constitutional powers to these forces to enter homes, detain civilians without cause and in some cases even kill them on mere suspicion or unfounded fear. In the rest of India, where a semblance of legal democracy is practiced, the police force, foisted cases under sedition, UAPA, NSA and the tiresome judicial process are enough to silence any opposition and dissenting voice to the exploitation.
Under the protection of the guns, the state and its corporate companies have been extracting the mineral wealth of these regions and exploiting the workers. The ‘Democratically’ elected state governments often have little voice and when they do speak out, they are dismissed and in Kashmir, the state itself was downgraded into a centrally administered region. It should come as no surprise that the people of these regions harbour fear and anger against the Indian State and its army.
The Army does what the Indian State empowers it to do. The State merely succumbs to the demands of the corporates who need protection for their unbridled exploitation. The struggle of the local population for their lands, resources, livelihood and aspirations are often termed as ‘Anti-National’. The pliant media feeds us this narrative. They adorn our minds with the ideological mask even as we cover our mouths with the medical mask, lest an honest question infect the status quo.
Such brutal killings, if and when reported, forces our consciousness to speak up against the violence and injustice. This sudden outburst is quickly pacified with more force and vague commitments to investigate and deliver justice. We return to our lives, dealing with the immediate and chronic crisis crafted by the capitalists to keep us occupied. The state returns to its ways of feeding the profit machine of the capitalist.
But those who died this week in Nagaland, those who are facing permanent disablement because of bullets paid for by the Indian taxpayers, those who are incarcerated in prisons without bail or trial for standing up for the exploited and marginalised, and the many more who fall victim to this system are our siblings and comrades. They don’t seek our sympathy, they demand our solidarity.
How long are we going to allow the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to deny their constitutional right?
How long are we going to let draconian laws like NSA, Sedition and UAPA, incarcerate our comrades in Jails?
How long are we going to deny people their elected government of their choice?
How long are we going to allow the Indian State to use force against innocent people in the pretext of securing National Interest?
How long are we going to keep demanding petty wage increases and material benefits even as our fundamental rights are being taken away and we are made into mechanical machines?
It is time the workers demand political justice and freedom from this exploitative system rather than bread crumbs to satisfy our immediate hunger pangs. If we have to go hungry and if we have to suffer the scars of exploitation, let it at least be for a more just, equal and democratic society for the future generations.
- Venkat is one of the editors of Thozhilalar Koodam (www.tnlabour.in)