Come December 27, Nagaland remembers the 1994 Mokokchung incident which seven civilians were gunned down, another five burned alive including a child, and more than a dozen reported missing. The incident also left 89 shops, 48 houses, 17 vehicles destroyed by gunfire and shelling.
By Imna Longchar, TFM Nagaland Correspondent
Nagaland on Monday remembered those victims of atrocities allegedly meted out by security and army personnel in different districts of the state dating back the year 1994 and the later years.
A day remembered as “black day”, December 27, 1994, was also another day when after the “infamous AFSPA” was promulgated just a day following the visit of the then Indian Army Chief, Gen Shankar Roy, to Kohima in order to discuss the “law and order problem” in Nagaland with incumbent Chief Minister, Dr SC Jamir.
It was said that at around10.20 am on December 27, 1994, a few rounds of gunfire was heard in the heart of Mokokchung town, and in no time the whole town was rendered into a “horrid atmosphere”, deafening the entire town with the sound of heavy automatic gunfire and artillery which lasted for about two hours.
Regarded as “an unforgettable action of genocide committed by the Indian Army during the last 60 years of its unholy crusade against the Nagas”, the woes of December 27, 1994 still run deep in the memory of the Nagas, stated a prominent citizen of Mokokchung town, M Bendangnukshi Longkumer, who was appointed by Ao Senden then as a “One man Committee” to go to Delhi following the incident.
It was informed that Longkumer met the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Delhi and was responsible for securing an “assistance” of Rs One crore from the Indian government.
Former President, Ao Senden, Lendinokdang, while terming the day as a “dark moment in the history of Naga people”, was had said that Naga people must remain “very vigilant” that such incidents do not occur in the future and at the same time work for peace.
The Ao Students Conference (AKM) also during the time had erected a monument in the town in remembrance of the incident.
“The curiosity of the people about the outcome of the General’s visit had been almost overshadowed by the festive mood. Christmas had just concluded, celebration of the New Year was only a few days away with lots of wedding occasions in between. This is the most crowded season of the year in Mokokchung”, recounted a denizen of the district.
Claiming that initially it was supposedly an exchange of gunfire between Naga underground cadres and the Indian Army, however, it was said that as the gunfire prolonged, the story appeared to be more than just an exchange of fire between the two sides following which, the 16 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) of the Indian Army carried out an appalling act of atrocity which was allegedly said to be “unmistakably” and “systematically engineered”.
The same crime committed by the security forces caused untold suffering to the Naga civil population, which left 89 shops, 48 houses, 17 vehicles and seven two wheelers razed to ashes, excluding those destroyed by gunfire and shelling.
Seven civilians were gunned down, another five burned alive including a child, and more than a dozen reported missing.
It was also reported that as the shooting started, the army cordoned off the civilians who were in and around the main shopping area of the town, near the main traffic point.
Alleged to have let the women and children made to crawl towards the open space of the traffic island, men folk were reportedly tortured, while several cases of rape were also reported.
With no communications as telephones in the town being snapped, it was also reported that none suspected it to be a case of sabotage for the mayhem, which was out of human imagination to be followed.
Sections of the local intelligentsia believed that this heinous action of the Indian Army was systematically premeditated, as this “mission” was conducted immediately following the Indian Army Chief’s visit to Nagaland and the 16 MLI convoying from their cantonment at Changki village located 45 kilometers away from Mokokchung town, ably assisted by the 10 Assam Rifles.
Not surprisingly, the Indian media did not do justice to this incident as not an instance of this incident went reported while Colonel Malik, the Commanding officer of the 16 MLI on January 3, 1995, admitted to the public of Mokokchung, Nagaland, that they were guilty of the December 27 massacre.
It was also reported that on the same day, ten Assam Riffles personnel while carrying out the “massacre and arson” were also involved in raping women on February 21, 2013.
Memoirs of Mokokchung
Many had expressed their own opinion, the rebirth of Mokokchung today exemplifies the resilience of the Nagas and their struggle but one must not let the beauty of Mokokchung and its serenity “fool our people”, said a senior citizen from Mokokchung while reminding that behind the beauty every Naga especially the Ao Naga people must not forget the massacres carried the by the Indian occupying forces.
Regarded as “an unforgettable action of genocide committed by the Indian Army in the last 60 years of its “unholy crusade” against the Nagas,” the woes of December 27, 1994, still run deep in the memory of the Nagas, observed a prominent citizen.
Initially, it was supposedly an exchange of gunfire between Naga underground cadres and the Indian Army.
However, as the gunfire prolonged, the story appeared to be more than just an exchange of fire between the two sides.
Following this, the 16 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) of the Indian Army carried out an appalling act of atrocity which was unmistakably and systematically engineered.
This crime of genocide committed by the Indian armed forces caused untold suffering to the Naga civil population, which left 89 shops, 48 houses, 17 vehicles and seven two wheelers razed to ashes, excluding those destroyed by gunfire and shelling.
Seven civilians were gunned down, another five burned alive including a child, and more than a dozen gone missing.
As the shooting started, the army cordoned off the civilians who were in and around the main shopping area of the town, near the main traffic point. While the women and children were made to crawl towards the open space of the traffic island, men folk were systematically tortured. Several cases of rape were also reported.
Earlier, the telephones in the town had all been mysteriously dead from around seven in the morning. None suspected it to be a case of sabotage for the mayhem, which was out of human imagination that was to follow a few hours later. Sections of the local intelligentsia believed that this heinous action of the Indian Army was systematically premeditated, as this ‘mission’ was conducted immediately following the Indian Army Chief’s visit to Nagaland and the 16 MLI convoying from their cantonment at Changki village located 45 kilometers away from Mokokchung town, ably assisted by the 10 Assam Rifles.
The Mokokchung incident on December 27, 1994, was a retaliation when a patrol party of the Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) was reportedly fired upon by “insurgents” where a army personnel and an cadre of the MLI were killed in an exchange of fire, while another army officer (JCO), leading the patrolling party was also reportedly shot dead while on duty to filter “insurgents” being housed.
Though the Commission looking into the incident had noted that the 1994 December 27 firing incident was started by “insurgents” and that the “preventive and punitive” action taken by the Task Force of the 16 MLI was “fully justified and in no way excessive”, it said that what followed after the initial encounter was however “completely indefensible”.
According to accounts of several eyewitness of the December 27 incident, the MLI doused woolen balls and other inflammable material with petrol and set houses and shops on fire, while civilians were still trapped inside and five being “burnt alive” and other three persons succumbing to their injuries later.
With four women reported being raped at “gunpoint”, in order to ascertain the same, the four rape victims were medically examined by medical professionals in the presence of Honorary Secretary, Red Cross, Mokokchung.
Though many speculation (s) had done the rounds with the Army justifying its stand that the houses caught fire as a consequence of the initial “grenade attack” and snapping of “high tension wires”, the then Justice Sen had refused to accept the version of the Army’s and found the arson deliberate while also finding the complaints of rape and molestation “fully substantiated”.
In the three incidents, the Commission had recommended that, ex-gratia (compensation), of Rs two lakhs be given in each incident of the murder and rape, the alleged crimes to be investigated and tried under the Army Act, a technical commission be set up to assess damage to property.
It was also alleged that in each of the reported three incidents, the Army directly had prevented civil administration from executing its official duties and ensuring the safety of the citizens while also threatening the Superintendent of Police, Mokokokchung, when he personally tried to arrange for a fire brigade.
Justice Sen had also emphasized on the legitimacy of army operation under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) derived from its being in aid of civil power, and not in superseding it while it had mentioned that on the basis of Section 3 of the Act and its findings in the three incidents, the Commission indicts the Army for “bypassing” the civil administration completely.
It recommended that the army should not search or raid any premises or detain any person (s) without prior consent of the local police, and that it should ordinarily be accompanied by the local police, any person arrested by the army should be handed over immediately to the police and interrogation to be carried out only by the local police.
January 23, 1995 Akuluto firing incident
Following a reported firing upon a post of the 15 Assam Rifles on January 23, 1995, at Akuluto, Nagaland, a farmer identified as Hozheto Sema, on suspicion of harbouring “militants” was killed before his wife was shot and their three months old child being “blown off”.
The jawan involved identified as Subedar Khelaram was tried by General Court Martial and he was awarded 45 days rigorous imprisonment, eight years loss of seniority, and four years of pension.
Five others were also awarded rigorous imprisonment.
Justice Sen, while finding the action to be inadequate, he deemed the initial firing by the Assam Rifles “legitimate, preventive and defensive” but asserted that “once the insurgents had broken contact, there was no need for further firing by the Assam Rifles” while also stating that the arson was “unjustified” and killing of Mrs Sema as “cold-blooded murder”.
He had also recommended for providing two lakhs ex-gratia compensation to Hozheto Sema, and adequate treatment for the child by the State government.
Justice Sen had also noted that there was “no State government official entrusted with maintenance of law and order in the near vicinity” and that the conduct of the Assam Rifles personnel in the particular case was a “sheer act of criminality” with no nexus to any legitimate operation in aid of “civil authority”.
Kohima March 5, 1995 ordeal
Barely within two and half months of the horrific December 27, 1994, Mokokchung incident, another ordeal in the hands of the armed forces was encountered when convoy of the 16 Rashtriya Rifles from Bishnupar, Manipur, enroute to Dimapur reportedly went frenzy after allegedly being “attacked” on March 5, 1995, in Kohima.
The convoy had 63 vehicles with five officers, 15 JCOs, and about 400 jawans.
Though many versions with regard to the “sustained attack”, lobbing “hand grenades” in three different locations killing seven civilians and injuring 20 others due to the “self defence firing” and shelling 16” mortal, the Army involved had claimed that those victims and injured were victims of “crossfire” that reportedly continued for around 20 minutes.
On some civilians’ account (eyewitness), including a uniformed personnel of the Nagaland Police, a different tale was said to have emerged following the incident where it was said that due to bursting of one of the convoy vehicles (Shaktiman Truck) tyre, the personnel of the16 Rashtriya Riffles started to have indiscriminately started shooting thinking that the burst of the tyre was an attack.
Reportedly the firing accompanied by shelling of the five mortars lasting for nearly three hours, had 1,207 rounds of ammunitions being fired which all the six witnesses had clearly mentioned that there was “no attack” or “exchange of fire” with “supposed insurgents”.
It was assumed that the 16 Rashtriya Riffles personnel deliberately attacked property, damaging buildings and houses while preventing the injured from being treated.
Justice Sen was also said to have found that the 16 Rashtriya Riffles personnel including its officers had acted in a “most irresponsible manner” that the firing was accompanied by “cold blooded murder” of innocent civilians, some within their residential houses, and that the mortar shelling in one of the most thickly populated township in Kohima was completely “unjustified”.
He also stated that some of the personnel had shown “utter disregard for civil authority” and asserted that the personnel of the 16 Rashtriya Rifles were solely responsible for the casualties and damage to properties.
AFSPA 1958 in NE States
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1958 was enforced in Northeastern States since the year 1958 which had since then provided the very basis in law for the “virtually permanent” presence of army and para-military forces.
The findings of the DM Sen Commission had revealed how the continued presence of paramilitary forces on a “long-term” basis undermined civil administration, the powers of the judiciary and the importance of the legislature, thus bringing the situation as close to “army rule” as could be imagined.
It may also be pertinent to mentioned that on April 3, 1995, Government of Nagaland, had constituted a one-man Commission of Enquiry with Justice DM Sen, retired Judge, Gauhati High Court, to probe the incidents of shooting, arson, and rape by various paramilitary forces in Akuluto, Kohima, and Mokokchung.
The scope of each enquiry was to discover the circumstances leading to firing, ascertain whether firing could have been averted, find out the persons responsible and to suggest measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents.
It was also learnt that the reports were submitted to the government on March 16, 1996, and even as the Nagaland government was examining the recommendations of the Commission, the Supreme Court had passed a stay order to maintain Status Quo at the request of the Ministry of Defence.