At 6 A.M on Monday, members of various rights groups as well as ordinary people of Nagaland began a two-day march to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the region. They began from Dimapur and will cover a 75 kilometer distance reaching Kohima tomorrow and submit a memorandum to the governor at Raj Bhavan.
The march organisers ensured that all Covid protocols were followed and only fully vaccinated people were permitted to join, that too on the condition that they will wear a mask and maintain social distancing. According to The Quint, a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for prospective participants was conducted for all prospective participants at Dimapur District Hospital on Sunday January 9, 2022.
On Monday, the protesters marched through different parts of the state such as Kukidolong, with a halt for lunch at Medziphema. At night they will halt at Piphema before resuming the march the next day.
The AFSPA has been opposed with renewed vigour in Nagaland after the killing of 14 civilians including six coal miners in December last year. The incident took place on December 4 when coal mine workers belonging to the Konyak tribe were on their way home from work, travelling on the road that connects Thiru to Oting in Mon district of Nagaland, less than a hundred kilometers from the international border with Myanmar. Personnel of the 21 Para Special Forces opened fire on their vehicle, allegedly without even verifying their identity. Six miners were killed and two injured in the incident.
Shortly afterwards a search party from the village of the miners came looking for them and as per a joint report of Nagaland’s Director General of Police (DGP) and Commissioner, “On reaching the spot, they found the pick-up truck and the special forces personnel trying to hide the dead bodies of the six villagers by wrapping and loading them in another pick-up truck (Tata Mobile) apparently with the intention of taking the dead bodies to their base camp.” When the villagers tried to stop them, the security forces once again opened fire on them and killed seven more people.
The Army later sheepishly issued a non-apology claiming the forces were acting on a tip that insurgents were travelling in the area with a cache of arms. But that neither explains why it did not bother verifying the identity of people they shot, nor why they were trying to whisk away the bodies of the dead. The following day, angry protesters attacked a camp of the Assam Rifles after bodies of the dead were not brought to the Mon helipad where a funeral had been planned by the villagers. One more civilian was killed in this protest taking the toll of civilian deaths to 14.
Since then, the Nagaland government has unanimously adopted a resolution to rid their state of AFSPA, and push for the repeal of the Act. “This House must sound the desire of the people. The desire of the people is to repeal this undemocratic and draconian law,” said Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio when the resolution was adopted on December 20.
The AFSPA has been in effect in the North East since 1958, while Nagaland became an Indian state in 1963 and has thus remained under AFSPA for close to sixty years. AFSPA allows security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without a warrant. This power has allegedly been misused by security forces to torture locals with several allegations of gendered crimes also mode from time to time.
After a meeting between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and leaders from the North East such as Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton, Naga People’s Front Legislature Party leader TR Zeliang, and Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on December 23 in New Delhi, the Centre had decided to form a five-member panel to examine possibility of withdrawing AFSPA in the region. However, just days later, on December 30, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extended AFSPA in the region for six more months! It issued a Gazette notification saying, “The whole state of Nagaland is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of civil power is necessary.”
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