The Naga people all over the world are mourning the death of 14 Naga brothers who were mercilessly gunned down by the Indian army on the 4th and 5th December 2021. With one voice we are crying, not to seek revenge, but to seek justice with peace and hope.
This Indo-Naga war has been going on for more than sixty years and it may seem that this massacre is nothing new. But enough is enough. Our 14 Naga brothers were killed, simply because they were Nagas — because of their ethnicity — not because they were insurgents or terrorists. And they were killed because the Indian Army could do so with impunity, without fear of legal consequences.
This massacre has challenged our Naga humanity and our very existence, our right to live. We must, and we will seek justice with the power of love. We will not rest until justice is done.
There is a twist in the tragedy of this Oting massacre. The crime is horrifying and dreadful. The wounds and pain can never be forgotten. Yet this tragedy in a mysterious way has united all the Naga tribes. It has had the proverbial effect of the last straw. These innocent young men did not die in a battlefield, but it is as if they laid down their lives to shock the Naga people into uniting and finding our destiny by learning to live in peace. Oting has awakened us to a new level of awareness; we are facing the challenge with greater alertness than we’ve done in decades. It is a time to discern – a time for reflection, correction, and re-direction. Nagas from Myanmar, Arunachal, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland are united in a joint search for honesty and integrity of our common peoplehood. In our utter desperation of finding a way forward together, we are seeking a higher value and reaching for our highest spirit. We are searching for our rightful destiny that will give us the honour and dignity to live as one Nation. This then is a time for soul searching, a time to forgive, a time for healing.
We cannot play politics with the massacre of Oting. The victims are our brothers; they are, and must remain, the focus of our attention and concern. We must honour their deaths and allow their souls to rest in peace.
A meaningful way to honour them is to see this unspeakable massacre for what it is – as the latest among the thousands of victims we mourn, not only Nagas, but our neighbours who were also killed by the Indian army over these many years: the Assamese, the Mizo, Meitei, Bodo and others all over North East India.
While we mourn those killed by the Indian army, we cannot but also think of the fratricides – brothers killing brothers. There is a clear obstacle to Nagas going forward in unity. Some of those who have killed their own Naga brothers are trying to shift the focus only to a common enemy, the Indian army, while taking no responsibility. This avoidance of moral responsibility lacks integrity. It is a sign of weakness that we cannot afford. We cannot do this if our goal is to build a healthy nation.
Oting with a difference: what we mean by Oting with a difference is that it should lead us to tell the truth, the whole truth, including the ugly truths. To politicise the Oting massacre would be morally wrong; it would be a betrayal of the dead and the living. Those who try to take advantage of this massacre for their vested political interests will be cursed by their own designs.
It is in the spirit of telling the whole truth that I acknowledge the death of the Jawan who was killed, whose name has not been released. I remember the earlier death of Col. Viplav Tripathi, his wife and young son who were recently killed by insurgents.
Nagas did not start the Indo-Naga violence. History is clear on that. But once violence enters the stage, the resultant acts of more violence and tragedies follow an endless cycle of cause and effect. We want to break this cycle with justice. In seeking justice, we need to recognise the unjust laws that undermine our human rights. Our fourteen dead in Oting and Mon have been denied the right to life itself. Recognizing the injustice inherent in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is our starting point. Repealing AFSPA is our overriding intent and priority, as this law violates the common humanity of the Indian armed forces and the people they kill with impunity. This painfully inhuman fact must be confronted resolutely with the counter moral force of truth, justice, and peace. Oting 2021 may yet be the starting point for a different reality in our history – an era of healing and peace.
There is an African proverb: When the elephants fight, it is the grass that is trampled. The Oting massacre demonstrates once again the vulnerability of a fragile and small group desperately seeking to survive as a peoples. India is determined to protect her territorial “integrity” against the threat of China, and is using any means to keep the Nagas and the North East under its thumb. China uses a similar strategy in dealing with the Uyghurs, the Tibetans, and other minorities by undermining their very cultural existence through forced assimilation policies. India is doing the same in North East India. We appeal to the government of India, in the rich legacy of India’s spiritual and philosophical civilization, which has contributed so much to the world, to respect the Naga right to life by permanently removing AFSPA and demilitarizing the North East region.
In short, what we need and want is justice; to see that the murderers are brought to justice and AFSPA is repealed. What the families of the victims need are help and caring. What Nagas want and need is peace. What does India want?
May the spirits of our Oting fallen young men turn into stars that will shine upon our paths through the night.
Professor Visier Sanyü’s reflection at the public lament for the innocent civilians killed on December 4 and 5 organised by the Forum For Naga Reconciliation on December 19.
First published in The Morung Express.