Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Dr Asangba Tzüdir

Every year the Hornbill festival brings bitter memories of the Oting massacre since the Oting incident coincided with the Hornbill festival of 2021. Two years after the incident, the dead still cries out for justice. 

As a recap, a paragraph of the statement that was laid in Rajya Sabha by Union Home Minister regarding the massacre at Oting read thus: “based on inputs received by the Indian Army about movement of the insurgents near Tiru village in Tizit area of Mon district, a team of 21 para-commandos of Indian Army laid an ambush in the evening of 04.12.2021. During the ambush, a vehicle approached the location and it was signaled to stop. However the vehicle tried to flee, following which the vehicle, suspected of carrying insurgents, was fired upon resulting in killing of 6 out of 8 persons travelling in the vehicle.” 

While nothing about the statement could be further from the truth, it was simply a case of ‘ambushed shoot to kill’ being shielded by the most draconian AFSPA and not a case of shooting at a fleeing vehicle carrying suspected insurgents. The nature of the so called ‘mistaken identity killing operation’ was so botched that Retd. Infantry Officer of Sikh Regiment K J Singh tweeted on the Oting, Mon, Nagaland tragedy – “why do we need SF for a routine pedestrian ambush. Why couldn’t AR lay this ambush? Who ordered SF for this op? Was it NSA? There is something not right happening about the military command and control structure.” 

What is considered “not right” about the military command and control structure requires further elaboration. Something that is not democratic in a country that professes to be democratic, where certain zones are declared ‘disturbed’ through a ‘state of necessity’, where killings on mere suspicion are legitimated. In context, the military control structure is built around draconian laws like AFSPA placed at a zone of in distinction between legal and fiction. Such laws only adds to the attitude and cruelty of Indian Army so much so that their presence do not give a sense of security, rather terrorize the people and the land even through their mere presence. 

While the dead still cries out for justice, even after two years since the ‘massacre’, the least expected as a ‘moral minimum’ was a ‘sorry’ from the President or the Union Home Minister or the Indian Chief of the Army or even the commander of the 21 para-commandos of Indian Army that carried out the ambush and subsequent massacre. Sorry seems to be the hardest word. It is not surprising considering the history of killings in the region.   

Now, at a time when the call for settlement of the vexed Naga Political issue gets louder, and when the entire Naga community, more so the Konyaks are still mourning the Oting massacre, the raising of an Indian Army Morung at the Naga Heritage Village Kisama during the ongoing Hornbill has come at a wrong time. This is also attested by the objections jointly raised by the Naga Students Federation and the Global Naga Forum calling upon the Government of India to respect the sentiments of the Naga Community and adding that the act was “ostensibly done to ‘pay tribute to valiant soldiers’ has ignited a wave of outrage and disbelief among the Naga people and human rights advocates.”   

Now on another plane, the raising of an Indian Army Morung at the Naga Heritage Village Kisama raises a very fundamental question in the context of the Hornbill festival. The question being – why should there be an Indian Army Morung at the Naga Heritage Village Kisama, the main arena of the festival? Or is the space for Morung at Kisama being accommodated because the Indian Army brings a distinctive culture - as perpetrators of a very long history of a ‘culture’ of atrocities? 

While there are other ways and spaces to ‘pay tribute to valiant soldiers’, the Naga Heritage Village should not be diluted through an Indian Army Morung, rather participating or collaborating foreign countries should be given space to raise Morung as symbols of cultural expression and exchange towards promoting the diversity of culture and heritage

(Dr Asangba Tzudir writes a weekly guest editorial for The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to