The media is agog with the recent incident of killings in Nagaland. The Union Home Minister has made a statement in Parliament, highlights of which include the following:
- Based on inputs received by the Indian Army, about movement of the insurgents near Tiru village in Tizit area (Mon district), an ambush was laid on the evening of December 4 by 21 PARA (SF).
- A vehicle approaching the site was signaled to stop but it tried to flee. Suspected of carrying insurgents, the vehicle was fired upon resulting in the killing of six out of eight persons in the vehicle. However, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The two injured persons were evacuated by Army personnel to medical facilities.
- Thereafter, local villagers surrounded the Army team, burnt two vehicles and assaulted them resulting in death of one Security Force (SF) personnel and injuries to several others.
- To disperse the crowd, SFs opened fire which resulted in killing of seven more civilians and injuring some others.
- FIR was registered in Tizit Police Station and the case has been transferred to the State Crime Police Station (SCPS) and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been constituted.
- On the evening of December 5, a mob of approximately 250 tried to ransack the Company Operating Base (CoB) of Assam Rifles in Mon town. The mob burnt buildings of the CoB following which troops had to open fire to disperse the mob. Resultantly, one civilian was killed while another was injured.
- HQ 3 Corps, Army has deeply regretted the incident which resulted in the unfortunate killing of innocent civilians and has said that the cause is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per law.
- The Home Minister took immediate measures as required and the Government is keeping a close watch on the evolving situation. The state authorities have promulgated prohibitory orders in the affected areas.
- Government sincerely regrets this unfortunate incident and expresses deepest condolences to the affected families.
According to media reports, the FIR alleges that 21 PARA (SF) “blankly opened fire” resulting in the killing of many Oting villagers and also that the “intention” of security forces was to “murder and injure civilians”.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has condemned the unfortunate incident that led to the killing of civilians and tweeted: “Condolences to the bereaved families & speedy recovery of those injured. High-level SIT will investigate and justice delivered as per the law of the land.”
Rovilatuo Mor, IAS, Commissioner, Nagaland and T John Longkurmer, IPS, DG Police Nagaland, in a signed joint statement on December 5, accused 21 PARA (SF) of killing unarmed civilians at random without any attempt for identification. They further say when villagers (number not mentioned) came to the spot, the Special Forces personnel again opened indiscriminate firing killing seven more villagers before fleeing from the scene and that two of the seriously injured civilians were taken to Assam side by the Security forces themselves and are admitted in the ICU at Dibrugarh Hospital.
The statement also says that on December 5, 600-700 people armed with sticks, pipes, flammable fluids and few with machetes or daos (dahs) went to the Assam Rifles camp. After almost an hour into the melee, the second round of continuous firing by the Assam Rifles resulted in one civilian killed and six wounded.
The FIR against 21 PARA (SF) alleging opening firing blankly and intention of murdering and injuring civilians would have had concurrence of the DG Police, T John Longkurmer, for reasons not too difficult to understand.
Media and some journalists are busy spinning the narrative. One journalist writes that forces were under pressure to show some results after the Manipur ambush on November 13 where the CO of an Assam Rifles battalion, his wife, 6-year old son and three soldiers were killed in an ambush by insurgents; suggesting that the action in Nagaland was a reprisal without credible reason. Another newspaper says that the civilians moving in the vehicle were singing loudly – is it suggesting that the reason the driver did not stop the vehicle? But surely, the driver was given the signal by a soldier on the road?
The Commissioner and DG Police Nagaland while accusing 21 PARA (SF) of killing civilians at random without establishing their identity and later opened firing indiscriminately when villagers came the spot need to answer the following:
- Why did the vehicle try to flee and not stop when asked to do so?
- They may despise the Army but if hypothetically they were part of the ambush which was laid based on intelligence about movement of NSCN (K) cadres generated by “local police” – let the vehicle flee?
- Are they in league with NSCN (K) or on their payroll or was the said intelligence generated by local police false by design to orchestrate this incident for nefarious reasons?
- If the intelligence indeed was false, on whose behest was it – political or insurgents linked to Chinese intelligence?
- If intent of 21 PARA (SF) was to murder and kill civilians, why would they carry two injured civilians to medical facilities?
- Why not mention that the killed soldier was first “shot” and then attacked with a dah.
- Wasn’t the firing by 21 PARA (SF) in ‘self defence’ rather than “indiscriminate” at the villagers? Why otherwise were 14 personnel (including an officer) of 21 PARA (SF) injured and in Dibrugarh Hospital? Surely they had enough ammunition to fire “Indiscriminately” if their intent was to kill, murder and injure civilians.
- Shouldn’t the Commissioner and DG Police be charged for not imposing prohibitory orders on the evening of December 4 itself? Why did they not anticipate the violence on December 5? Was it laxity or by design in consultation with politicians or the NSCSN?
It may be recalled that a few years back there was an incident in J&K where five youth travelling in a civil vehicle were fired upon when their vehicle jumped two check posts and tried to flee. The youth died in the firing. There was political uproar and human rights groups were up in arms. The check post guard of one JCO and six other ranks were on bonafide military duty in an area declared “Disturbed”. But because of political pressure they were subjected to Summary Court Martial. It was election time then and same is the time now though not in Nagaland.
Initially six civilians had died in Nagaland. More casualties would not have happened if the armed villagers had not attacked the soldiers. At the same time, there is no question of soldiers having a license to kill civilians but the circumstances too need to be taken into account. The Army has set up a court of inquiry under a Major General to look into the killing of civilians in Nagaland. Without doubt justice will be delivered as mandated by law.
As for the politicians, the Commissioner and DG Police of Nagaland, they may want counter-insurgency operations to slow down that helps smooth flow of narcotics and consolidating political power in concert with insurgents. But equate the Indian Army functioning to that of the Pakistani army in Balochistan is sacrilege. Special Forces are the finest of the forces and 21 PARA (SF) has earned a singular name in counter insurgency operations in the northeast, including national recognition for hitting insurgent camps inside Myanmar during 2015 under Operation ‘Hot Pursuit’.