Nagaland is a state in India's far north-eastern area where more than 18 indigenous tribes call this place home. Mountains and woodland surround it on all sides. However, it is bordered by barbed wire and armed guards. It is identified as one of India's “troubled states” where the draconian AFSPA law is in effect.
“On the evening of 4th December in the Mon district of Nagaland, 6 civilians were killed by the special paramilitary forces of the army. The 6 civilians were coal-miners returning from work when they were ambushed and killed 'mistakenly' without the attempt to identify the civilians in the car.”
When I was young, my grandma used to tell me stories about similar circumstances from the early 1950s when the army invaded her village. She often used to tell me about how the “sepoy” would sexually harass her and her sisters when they went to gather firewood in the forest. She'd tell me about how they had burned down villages and how a gunshot sound meant a family had lost someone they loved. And how the Naga tribes' blood had turned the fields and streams scarlet.
As the phrase says, "old age is second childhood," and that was certainly the case for my grandmother, who began to feel the suffering she had felt as a small child in the (Khensa) village when the army was deployed.
She was an elderly woman who was left with nothing but the pain and trauma that the armed forces had caused her and her families. It crushed my heart to hear and witness someone I care about go through such a traumatic and harrowing ordeal and then have to relive it all over again in her old age.
As I grew older, I noticed that loud noises and firecrackers worried her, and she would grab me and tell me to hide under the bed because the "sepoys" were approaching. I've never completely comprehended the anguish and sorrow, until today. It broke my heart tonight to learn that innocent civilians were killed by the armed forces.
And when such crimes occur, they have a direct impact on our community.
"Bodies were being dragged out of pick-up trucks and dumped on the road," said one of the two survivors.
In the north-eastern state, where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA law is still in place; humanitarian rights are lacking. The AFSPA gives the military vast powers and authorizes the army to open fire on anyone breaching the law or carrying guns and ammunition. They also have the authority to make arrests and inspect people's houses without warrants.
The AFSPA was implemented in Nagaland in 1958 to permit for a brief military deployment to combat a resistance movement that has loomed over our state for over sixty years, making it one of India's longest-running insurgencies. This act has allowed the armed forces to rape our women, kill our men and innocent children. And a large percentage of such human rights violations occur in North-eastern states such as Nagaland, Manipur, and Assam as well as Jammu & Kashmir, where insurgency and conflicts exist.
I remember in the 8th grade reading Kaka D Haralu’s novel, The Naga Saga, in which an entire army battalion raped a woman for assisting Naga rebels, and her brothers were tortured to rape her as well until one of the brothers decided to choose death.
Such pain of war and violence has been passed down from generation to generation.
Guns, shootings, and crimes committed by the armed forces have become deeply ingrained in our culture.
When people commend the armed forces for their valour in defending us at the border. We are wary and cautious, and there is an obvious conflict as to whether they are trying to help or harm us. A uniform is supposed to signify protection, yet it reflects years of torture and atrocities against the Nagas. They symbolize crimes for which no punishment has been given.
The latest Nagaland killings have reawakened the armed forces' terror, as history has done before. The armed forces have continued to brutalize Naga civilians under the AFSPA since the early 1950s and the atrocities are still prevalent today:-
1. According to a statement released by Morung Express, on September 1, 1960, six villagers of Phor village were tortured to death.
2. Three more villagers from Yisi village were beaten to death on September 3, 1960. Two Mokie villagers were also beaten to death. One guy was buried alive following a brutal beating in Laruri village, while two persons from Meluri village were beheaded.
3. The Rashtriya Rifles, an Indian Armed Forces unit, murdered eight unarmed civilians in 1995 after suspecting them of being terrorists.
4. In 1960, all of Matikhrü village's men were forced to jump and do sit-ups for more than 5 hours in the scorching sun; and just before sunset, all of the men were taken inside, where nine of them were tortured and beheaded.
These incidents represent only a small portion of the Nagas' experiences over the years, including crimes, murders, and rape.
We were silent yesterday, soundlessly suffering the trauma passed down from our grandparents in silent stories told behind firecrackers, loud noises, and the shudder you feel when holding your grandmother's hand while passing by men in green uniforms.
But today, we condemn the armed forces' actions and speak out against the crimes committed against the Naga people during their 60-year insurgency under country’s rule.
We are sharing our rich heritage through this platform, starting with the cultural preservation efforts by voices of indigenous communities themselves.