Thursday, February 2, 2023

Oting awaits justice

December 4 marks the day when 13 innocent and unarmed civilians were gunned down at separate incidents by security forces in Oting on December 4, 2021. A day later, one more person was killed during a protest in Mon town. Those involved in the first incident were personnel of a unit of the 21 Para (Special Forces). The unit was led by an office identified as Major Ankush Gupta and included 2 Subedars, eight Havildars/THM, four Naiks, six Lance Naiks and nine paratroopers. In all, the Nagaland Police Special Investigation Team (SIT) 30 personnel of the 21 Para were chargesheeted after exhausting investigations and forensic reports. The unwarranted act that resulted in the cold-blooded killings sent shockwaves across India and abroad and it came at a time when there was strong clamour for repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 across the north east. This draconian Act was first imposed in Nagaland in 1958 and is currently in force in some districts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. The Act was lifted from Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya and has not been imposed in Sikkim. The AFSPA has facilitated the armed forces to carry out operations without the approval of the civil government in a state where it is in force, in the interest of national security. The Oting incident was not an ambush by the suspected insurgents but by the 21 Paras on the innocent youths of Oting returning home for Christmas after earning some money at the Tiru coal fields. The 21 Paras suspected the coal miners to be underground activists since one of them was reportedly carrying a single barrel bore gun. That itself should have led the Paras to stop the vehicle but according to reports, the army personnel fired shots at the vehicle and eventually killed six of them. Later when villagers heard of the firing, they wanted to go but were not allowed by the DC. However, they went to the spot and found that the army personnel had shifted the dead bodies into another truck and covered them with a tarpaulin after making them wear green fatigues to indicate they were insurgents. The incensed villagers charged at the 21 Paras and in the melee seven of them were killed while one para personnel was also killed. Next day in Mon, Konyaks took out procession and demanded that the Assam Rifles stationed there be withdrawn. The protest turned violent and firing by the Assam Rifles claimed the 14th victim. The AFSPA played a major role in allowing the uniformed personnel to act without restraint in the interest of national security. The post-December 4 scene was proof that the army version was a cooked up story meant to cover up a wrong doing. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court had stepped in on a PIL filed by the wife of the para Major after which proceedings against the 30 personnel were stayed. According to Bar and Bench, the Court was hearing two pleas, one of which was filed by Anjali Gupta, wife of Major Ankush Gupta, who was one of the army officers booked by the state Police. The law in the court as well as the AFSPA has deemed the killings not criminal but a duty in national interest. There has been more or less silence in Nagaland and whether that meant assent?

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