Reflections on Oting
Listening to the accounts of survivors and the people of Oting, reading the spot report of the Director General of Police and the Home Commissioner of the Government of Nagaland, and after visiting the killing site as part of a 6-member FNR Team where 13 innocent civilians were killed in Oting, these information indicate that there was absolute disregard for the right to life and personal liberty. It was a blatant display of force and the unjustifiable abuse of power.
Madam Chairperson, respected leaders and members of the public, what happened on December 4, 2021, constitutes the gravest assault of human dignity and life. Without the right to life, all other rights cannot be secured. The Tizit Police Station filed a suo moto FIR against the 21st Para Special Force of the Indian Army where it stated that, “security forces blankly fired at the vehicle without any provocation resulting to the killings of many Oting villagers and seriously injuring many others.” The FIR went on to add, “hence, it is obvious that the intention of security forces was to murder and injure civilians.”
While we are awaiting the Government of Nagaland’s Special Investigation Team to complete their investigation and make public their findings, the corridors of authority and the powers that be are spinning their own narratives on the sequence of events. In other words, there is a clash of truths. The people, are seeking the truth based on facts, a truth that brings the facts to light. Whereas, for the powers that be their truth is to obscure and mask the ugly reality, covering the facts so they are not brought to light.
This underscores why the stories from Oting and Mon need to be told and to be heard. Today’s public lamentation is part of the process. The stories of Oting need to be told so that no matter how the powers try to change the narrative, the lived experiences and accounts of the survivors become our living memories.
The Oting killing is sustained by a culture of impunity that originates from the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Derived from the 1942 Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance which was introduced by the British to suppress the Quit India Movement, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was introduced in 1958 in response to the Naga political movement. In its 63 years, the AFSPA has not achieved its purpose and in our Naga experience, the AFSPA is not only a colonial act, but has proven to be anti-peace. Not only has AFSPA weakened India’s democratic framework, but it has proven to be counter-intuitive to human values and the sacredness of human life.
In 1982, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the AFSPA. After fifteen long years, in August 1997, the case was finally argued. Kapil Sibal was the amicus curiae, and as a student of law and a human rights activist, I attended every hearing which lasted about 2 weeks. The One Man Enquiry Sen Commission Report of the Mokokchung (December 1994), Akuluto (January 1995) and Kohima (March 1995) reports along with a fact finding report called “Where Peacekeepers have Declared War” were submitted. But for two weeks the arguments were mostly centred on principles and concepts, and not how the AFSPA was impacting people on a daily basis. The PUDR, in its critique, stated that the “court refused to go into the actual working of the Act and deemed it irrelevant for purposes of deciding its constitutionality” and its “proceedings were on abstract constitutional principles divorced from life.” Eventually, in November 1997, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of AFSPA. It failed to realise that repealing the AFSPA will not weaken, rather it will only strengthen India’s constitutional democracy.
Today we have gathered to lament the Oting massacre. And while we recognise that AFSPA is only a symptom of a deeper political question, Oting reminds us that the AFSPA has no place in our contemporary world of the 21st century, and must be repealed. It will require strong moral and political leadership and an unrelenting strategic nonviolent peoples’ movement to ensure there are no more incidents like Oting.
Respected leaders, Nation, Governments and States are judged not by their ability and capacity to make war, rather they are judged by their willingness and ability to make peace. This is what makes them distinct. The Oting killings have made me pause to think. And it begs the question, whether India’s sincerity, willingness, ability, and approach is the road to making long term peace?
The world needs to know that Nagas want long term peace, not short term peace. Nagas do not want peace that is imposed from above, but we want an inclusive peace that emerges from the ground-up based on justice which recognises our rights to chart our own destiny. We want a peace that is just and dignified.
The tragedies in Oting and Mon have occurred at a time when Nagas are encircled in darkness. We have become blind with bitterness, suspicion, selfishness, division and corruption. Our values are degenerating as we are forgetting our history and who we are as a people. Today, we are taught how not to be a Naga and are turning into who we are not. Our leadership is fragmented and the perils of isms obstruct our path from moving forward.
In the aftermath of the Oting killings, Walunir sent a message saying that the civilians were killed without a cause, but created a cause in their death!
And so I ask myself, what does Oting means to me? And I urge you to ask yourself the same, what does Oting mean to you? I feel it is time for Nagas to awaken and reach out to one another, to stand in solidarity, to humble ourselves and learn to be united in purpose. While travelling from Tizit to Oting, I thought, Can Oting be the light in the hill in this time of darkness? Can the Konyaks be the light in the hill for the Nagas, and can the Nagas be the light in the hill for the world? I believe we can when we learn to be true to ourselves and transcend these hardships.
In the FNR team’s interaction with Konyak organisations and leaders we experienced and observed a reflective and discerning tone. And so, I want to take this time to thank our Konyak leaders, who in the face of a storm have remained calm and unwavering. All the leaders we met in Oting and Mon demonstrated dignity and were united in resolve. Thank you for your humanity, thank you for your leadership and for showing us the way. Now, more than ever, it is essential that all Nagas stand in solidarity with them.
Finally, I end here with a poem by Liam Mac Uistin titled We Saw A Vision.
We Saw A Vision
In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope, And it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision,
We planted the tree of valour, And it blossomed.
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision,
We melted the snow of lethargy,
And the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river,
The vision became a reality,
Winter became summer,
Bondage became freedom,
And this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generation of freedom remember us,
The generation of the vision.
(Reflection shared by Aküm Longchari on December 19, 2021 at the Public Lament under the theme “Memories of Oting and the Nagas” organised by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation. Aküm is a member of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation.)