Skip to main content

1994 isn’t just a number

It is a year of significance that held my attention for years after. I had completed a decade of my life and still not understood the meaning or purpose of examinations. Once after writing a paper on English Literature and finishing before time, I asked the invigilating authority (who happened to be a teacher of English Literature too) if I could read something in the time left. She had no objection and I dug out my battered green copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom and Huck were at it again—hunting for nooks to give shape to their rebellion, sometimes being hunted down themselves and at times finding company in Betty. Ah, even the 100th time of reading was exciting.
Not for the invigilator though. I was too engrossed in Tom and Betty getting lost in a cave to hear her call out. I heard her the 5th time though, “Roll number 2! You can’t read the text you’re being examined on!”Really? But I’ve already answered the paper, pretty well too, and I love this. There, I’ll submit my paper even. That didn’t quite work and I came out looking like I was cheating in an examination affecting a sense of guilt which I held on to for years, for a crime I hadn’t committed.
Oblivious to my own “hardship” were a people (in a land I hadn’t even heard of at the point) going through terrible persecution in the same year, only their experience ending with punishment of the sort taught to us through the Indian Central Board of Secondary Education to be heinous and unjust.Wait, isn’t punishment meted out when a crime has been committed and subsequently proved? Not if you let the armed forces handle justice, but the Indians didn’t tell us either about the Nagas or the Indian occupation of their land since 1955. Education in India is obviously not in sync with its politics and realities. In effect, we grew up learning imaginations, chemistry and math.
1994 is a significant year for the Nagas because its endre-marked proof that militarisation of their life was there to stay. The Indian army had decided to “punish” them on the suspicion of one of them being responsible for the death of a colonel. Ask the particular infantry to prove this and nothing will come of it. No matter what sparked this incident, what followed was unjustified.On 27th December 1994, a young government servant, Yangchid, was out shopping in the morning in Mokokchung town centre- the wedding and holiday season was on, people were out and about. By 10am the whole battalion of one Maratha Light Infantry had moved into the town centre. Wool was taken from shops that sold it, dipped in fuel and thrown into buildings to bring them down. People had no clue what was going on and made unsuccessful attempts to flee. Others shut themselves in shops hoping that would save them from the onslaught, only to find their shutters axed out and set on fire. Yangchid, on his part, hid on the roof of the shop he was in. His half-charred body, refrigerated by winter, was found only a month after the incident when the half-burnt building he hid in was brought down. The whole time his wife believed he had managed to escape the massacre, people sure in their disoriented belief that they’d seen him somewhere waiting for the right time to come back home from his fear.
We could recount the stories of others. Like the man who was shot at thrice after jawans were ordered by their supposed senior in slippers to open fire on him to “avenge the killing of their boss”. Never mind the fact that the man under attack had no clue what they were referring to. Mind you, the Armed Forced Special Powers Act (AFSPA, 1958)allows even non-commissioned officers to use force or shoot at sight anyone on suspicion in a ‘disturbed area’; an obvious source of audacity for slippered officials.
To add to it were the other regular markings of an army operation—drunk officers, random shooting, excessive violence without cause, rape as a tool of intimidation, marginal police interference, none of the other 100 battalions of this and that posted in the region coming to the rescue even as the violations went on for nearly 4 hours. Men were pulled out and shot, women were raped wholesale, buildings burnt and bombed at no value. From guns to heavy artillery—everything was used against an unarmed civilian population. One citizen’s investigation document places reported damage at 49 burnt houses, 89 destroyed shops, 7 shot dead, 5 burnt alive and 8 raped. It is little wonder that India refuses to recognize the International Criminal Court; it will be forced to take responsibility for some serious crimes against humanity if even one of these cases of mass atrocities are to be accounted for. And this is only a small case compared to the locally known ‘concentration camps’ that the armed forces had set up in Naga areas during the 1950s through 60s and 70s.
Mokokchung’s community structures well deserve commendation though. They investigated the case themselves, represented themselves at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), managed to get a compensation of Rs.1crore (apparently this is all the State and Central government could do), got another independent investigation underway, and more or less managed the entire post violence logistics of bringing the burnt buildings down, clearing the rubble, stabilizing businesses, helping people build up their homes again, providing spaces to deal with human trauma and even erecting a memorial. The “national workers” in their area (famously chased out by the community itself in 2003) only added to the trouble by constantly demanding taxes, and even shooting a representative from the Chamber of Commerce down when the latter tried to standardize tax that local businesses were ready to pay in return for no benefits.
The man who was shot at by the jawans, but survived, has preserved the 18 bullet marks on his house as a result of indiscriminate firing during the incident. It serves as a reminder, according to him, that Nagasare ignorant of their rights and the Indian State takes advantage of it.It is left to the readers to judge if the armed forces here continue to be here “to aid civil power” or for a desperate need to justify their being in Nagaland for these many years. It has been known for a long time now that no military solution can be found for the Naga call for their rights as a people, and indeed a wonder why the movement against AFSPA hasn’t found voice in Nagaland in the recent years. If a political solution is to be had in the near future, we should not forget that this will not be holistic within the framework of militarisation because it takes away the basic right to live—the right to life.