Tensions prevail in Nagaland following the killing of 14 civilians by Indian Army soldiers; authorities have shut down internet services and imposed a curfew to quell mass protests.
The incident at Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district has also led to chief ministers of Nagaland and Meghalaya Neiphiu Rio and Conrad Sangma calling for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) while Home Minister Amit Shah expressed regret over the incident in Parliament.
Here’s what has so far happened since the tragedy unfolded.
NHRC issues notice to Centre, Nagaland
Taking suo motu cognisance of the incident, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued a notice to the defence secretary, the Union Home Secretary, and the chief secretary, and Director General of Police of Nagaland, seeking a detailed report on the killings of civilians in an army operation, within six weeks.
According to news agency PTI, the report is expected to include the status of the inquiry being conducted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT), relief granted to the next of kin of the deceased, the status of the medical treatment being provided to the injured, and the cases registered against the persons and officers responsible for the incident.
Naga tribal union demands punishment
The Konyak Union, the apex body of the Konyak Naga Tribe from the Mon district of Nagaland where the incident took place, has submitted a memorandum to the government, demanding immediate action against members of the security forces responsible for the killing of the 14 civilians.
According to an NDTV report, the tribal union has asked Home Minister Amit Shah to set up an independent inquiry committee, along with the immediate withdrawal of the Assam Rifles from the Mon district.
The tribal body has also asked that all the Army personnel involved must be booked and punished within 30 days.
A man, who lost his son in the attack, was quoted as telling the Indian Express, “We are not blaming the government, the police or the entire armed forces. For us, justice is not about the money we are offered. But we want the commander responsible, the major who led the operation, to be identified and punished.”
Additionally, the body has also asked for a repeal of AFSPA in all north-eastern states.
Repeal AFSPA, say chief ministers
The calls for repealing the controversial AFSPA law has grown louder since the state witnessed violence over the incident.
It’s not just the locals and human rights activists who are demanding for the law — which gives enormous discretionary powers to the armed forces — be repealed.
AFSPA, for the unversed, empowers the governor of the state, or the central government to declare any part of the state as a 'disturbed area', if in its opinion there exists a dangerous situation in the said area which makes it necessary to deploy armed forces in the region. The legislation empowers an officer to open fire at any individual even if it results in death if the individual violates laws that prohibit (a) the assembly of five or more persons; or (b) carrying of weapons. However, the officer has to give a warning before opening fire.
The authorised officer has also been given the power to (a) arrest without a warrant; and (b) seize and search without any warrant any premise in order to make an arrest or recovery of hostages, arms and ammunition.
On Monday, Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio joined the clamour and said that AFSPA has blackened the image of India and should be removed.
“We are Indians and India is the biggest democratic country in the world. AFSPA is a draconian law and should be removed from our country. Many laws can be handled. But this law has blackened the image of our country. This is my opinion,” Neiphiu Rio said.
According to reported information, Rio was quoted as saying, "AFSPA gives immunity to forces. The law is being debated even in international fora. We are the biggest democracy and a lot of people have been demanding removal of Afspa. However, every year the Centre extends the Act in Nagaland saying its disturbed. All armed groups are observing ceasefire and are part of peace talks. So, why extend AFSPA? The Act was imposed for insurgency but where is insurgency now."
Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma too joined in, mirroring Rio's views. "We have opposed AFSPA for long. It is counterproductive and despite being operational for a long time, it has not resulted in solving the problem. We urge the Government of India to repeal AFSPA," Sangma said.
How Amit Shah reacted
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday spoke in Lok Sabha on the Nagaland firing incident and said that the case was of mistaken identity as the Army had received information on the movement of extremists in Oting, in Mon district.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha. https://t.co/dfr2jUvluw
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 6, 2021
"On that basis, 21 commandos laid an ambush in suspected area. A vehicle reached there, it was signalled to stop but it tried to flee. On suspicion of the vehicle carrying extremists, it was fired upon," he added.
Six of the eight passengers in the vehicle died on the spot, while the other two were taken to the nearest hospital by the Army, he said, adding that it was later found to be a case of mistaken identity.
"As news about the incident spread to the nearby villages, locals surrounded the Army unit and attacked them, setting two vehicles on fire. As a result of the violence, one jawan of the security forces died, while many others were injured," Shah said in the Lower House.
He added that the security forces had to then resort to firing for self-defence and to disperse the crowd, which resulted in the death of seven more civilians and many injuries. "Local administration and police also tried to bring the situation to normalcy," the home minister said.
Shah added that a Special Investigation Team has been formed and it would submit its report within a week.
Speaking in the lower house of Parliament, he said, "Government of India expresses deep regret over the unfortunate incident in Nagaland and also expresses condolences to the bereaved families."
Police’s FIR against Army’s 21st Para-Special Forces unit
Meanwhile, the Nagaland police has registered a case against the 21st para special forces.
The FIR, which was filed suo motu on Sunday, said that the intention of the security forces was to "murder and injure civilians".
The FIR filed by Ubi Posehu Kezo, the officer in charge of the Tizit police station, reads, "It is to be noted that at the time of incident there was no police guide nor security forces did make requisition to police station to provide police guide for their operation. Hence it is obvious that the intention of security forces is to murder and injure civilians."
"At around 1530 hours, coal mine labourers of Oting village were returning to their native village Oting from Tiru in a vehicle Bolero pick up. On reaching at Longkhao between Upper Tiru and Oting village, security forces blankly opened fire at the vehicle without any provocation resulting to the killing of many Oting villagers and seriously injuring many others (sic)," the FIR added.
As of now, the north-eastern state is seething with anger and it is left to be seen what happens next. But one thing is for certain: The incident has made people question the need for AFSPA and whether such a law is required in India.
With inputs from agencies