‘Justice in limbo’

Moa Jamir

“The grief was still raw, while ensuring justice, in terms of prosecution of alleged perpetrators as well as material compensation, remains elusive,” reads The Morung Express coverage, as the people of Oting village gathered at the village public ground to remember one year after the 14 Konyak men— 13 civilians who were killed during an alleged botched operation by Indian Armed Forces on December 4 and another in the violence that ensued in Mon headquarters the next day.

The “raw” wound was reopened again recently when the Nagaland Police informed that the Department of Military Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Government of India has conveyed its denial to accord Sanction for Prosecution against all the 30 accused involved in the Oting incident. An official statement informed that as “required by law, the fact of the denial of the Prosecution Sanction has been communicated to the Court of District & Session Judge, Mon by the State Crime Cell Police Station and the SIT.

Following the killing, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Nagaland Police was constituted, and after completing the investigation, the team had sought Sanction for Prosecution from the Ministry of Defence, Government of India on March 24, 2022. Section 197(2) of the CrPC “applies to taking cognizance by the Court.” Concurrently, the Army had also undertaken a 'Court of Inquiry,' the facts/findings of which remain beyond the public domain. The National Human Rights Commission too took suo motu cognisance of the killings.

During the intervening period, the Supreme Court on July 19, 2022, stayed further proceedings in the Suo Moto first information report (FIR) registered against the personnel of 21 Para (SF), Unit of the Indian Army involved in the killing of civilians citing lack of “mandatory previous sanction” from the Central Government under Section 6 of AFSPA, 1958. “We are constrained to pass an interim order staying further proceedings pursuant to FIR No. 27 of 2021/Final Report of the Special Investigation Team/Chargesheet,” noted the apex court interim order. The Section 6 of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) provided that “no prosecution, suit, or other legal proceedings shall be instituted except with the previous sanction of the Central Government.” 

The Nagaland DGP in June 2022 also informed that the SIT completed its inquiry and submitted the report to the State Government sometime in March to subsequently charge, and the charge was filed at the District and Sessions Court, Mon, on May 30.

The sanction for prosecution never came.

The most tragic aspect of this entire incident, however, is the silence of civil society organizations and the lack of public outrage. The fact that the cry for justice, once shrill and loud, has turned into deafening silence curiously died down is a reflection of the power dynamics at play. The co-optation of civil society organizations by the “powers that be” is a worrying trend and a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Nagaland.

“We are helpless,” was the pitiable reaction of the victim's father on the news of the denial Prosecution Sanction as reported in The Indian Express.

While the Government of India's denial of Prosecution Sanction against the accused is a gross violation of the fundamental principles of justice and fairness, the muted response from those purportedly fighting for justice has made Oting, a tragedy of epic proportions, with no relief in sight. However, the victims of the Oting incident and their families deserve nothing less than justice.

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