Many, within the civil society at large, view incidents (killing of civilians) such as the one that happened in Nagaland, as one of exception, aberration – even as they continue to occur at periodic intervals. They are reluctant to accept that this is how, historically, the Indian State has responded to the political aspirations of the people of those regions in North East and Kashmir, writes Amit Jugnu.
The brutal killing of 14 civilians, including six coal mine workers, in Nagaland, by the Indian Army, enjoying utmost impunity in the region, is not an act of aberration, or a case of mistaken identity or a botched up anti-insurgency operation, as has been described by the mainstream media, political parties, the government and the Army itself.
It is to be noted that the union government, through a statement made by the Home Minister in Parliament, has expressed ‘regret’ for the loss of lives of innocent unarmed civilians. Though, it has not apologized to the people of Nagaland or to the family members of those killed by its army. A careful reading of the statement will make it clear that Delhi has set the narrative for justification of the genocide. Home Minister Amit Shah, while regretting the loss of civilian lives, also stated that the vehicle the workers were traveling in, was ‘signaled to stop’ by the Assam Rifle jawans, and it was fired upon only when it ‘tried to flee’. He further said the incident will be investigated and action will be taken as per the law. And the LAW in this case is the notorious Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. In areas declared ‘disturbed’, under this law, the security forces can even shoot to kill with impunity on mere suspicion. Only Delhi has the power to sanction prosecution of the army personnel in criminal court for their actions. The union government, in Parliament, provided no reasons as to why nearly the whole state of Nagaland is declared ‘disturbed’ after every six months for the last five decades. The ‘disturbed’ area status means the lives of people there are governed by the dictates of the Indian Army who face complete impunity thanks to the AFSPA.
The villagers in Oting, home to 12 of the 14 civilians who were killed on December 4, have rubbished the official version of events in a strongly-worded statement. They have called the “heroic reports” about the operation “totally false and fabricated” and termed the army operation a “massacre”. They have also declared that Indian armed forces will not be allowed to enter the Oting village’s jurisdiction indefinitely. Even the state police had alleged that the “intention” of security forces was to “murder and injure civilians”.
The massacre, arrest, torture and killing of civilians by the Indian Army is, in reality, the established normal modus operandi of political interaction of the Indian State with the people of this entire region, including Nagaland, that we call North East. The Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), in a Press Statement dated 5th of December 2021, while condemning the genocide committed upon the villagers of Oting, summed up the feelings of the people of those lands under Indian Army rule when it stated:
“Ever since military aggression and occupation of the Naga homeland in 1954, civilians and common Naga people have been the target of the Indian army and the para-military forces. Armed with Draconian and inhuman legal immunity by the Indian Parliament, the government of India continues unabated to kill civilians and common people at any time and at any place of its conveniences.”
Many, within the civil society at large, view acts such as this, as one of exception, aberration – even as they continue to occur at periodic intervals – and hope the institutions of the state would deal fairly and provide justice to the victims in such “extreme” cases. They are reluctant to accept that this is how, historically, the Indian State has responded to the political aspirations of the people of those regions in North East and Kashmir. Such brutal subjugation and cold blooded massacres are direct results of conscious denial of juridical rights, such as, right to life, right to seek remedy, right to fair livelihood, and all that comes with the state’s political responsibility to ensure such rights within a society’s everyday matrix.
In other words, in the ‘disturbed’ lands of Nagaland and Manipur, “exception” is the “rule,” and incidents such as the one in Mon district, as well as the frequent incidents of brutality and violation of human rights of civilians in Kashmir, need to be seen both within a longer political history of the Indian state, as well as a larger narrative of how the state in these regions embodies itself predominantly, primarily and overwhelmingly, as a repressive organ, which exists not to protect the rights of the ordinary citizens, but to violate them. The absolute control of these lands are primarily important to the Indian state because of their strategic location. The independent political, cultural and linguistic aspirations and assertions of the people inhabiting them are viewed, and have been historically viewed, as seditious and subdued with force in ‘national interest,’ in the name of “national security.”
AFSPA, as such, merely helps execute this political dictum. It, therefore, is a mere symptom, not the cause of this political tyranny and subordination. AFSPA or any of its variants will exist in such colonized or occupied territories, often tagged as ‘disturbed’ by the state, and incidents such as the one in Mon district, will keep occurring, causing discomfort to people – like us – in the mainland, and putting our understanding of justice in front of huge question marks.
Hence, without acknowledging the legitimate alienation of the people of the occupied lands to the Indian state, without questioning the proxy rule of Delhi over them via its native collaborators elected through farcical elections, it will be impossible to comprehend the everyday mundane and spectacular forms of people’s struggles in those regions, seeking to transform themselves from mere disposable subjects to fully independent sovereign political agents, controlling their own political destiny. The frequent use of the very term “disturbed” by the Indian state de-legitimizes the political content of the popular aspirations of the people of this region, emptying the latter of any political meaning.
In our political rhetoric and practice, therefore, we need to recognize and point out the tyranny of the neo-colonial political project of the Indian State. The people of Nagaland, Manipur, Kashmir and other oppressed nationalities need our political solidarity in their struggles against subjugation. They need real political engagement with their aspirations and demands. Issuing of mere statements of condemnation will not help. Exhibition of sympathy with hashtags demanding justice or twitter storms to repeal AFSPA after every grave violation of their rights, cannot ever complete the difficult political task of such solidarity, which often needs political hard work, and integrating the political questions raised by such struggles in our everyday political praxis.
(Views expressed in the article are author’s personal)