Nagaland firing: Botched cover-up after a botched operation

Temper has been running high ever since TV news channels aired ‘expert comments’ that civilians were killed because they had helped insurgents escape

Nagaland firing: Botched cover-up after a botched operation
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Shalini Sahay

Addressing a candle light vigil in Kohima, an advisor to the Nagaland Government Medo Yhokha drew repeated applause when he condemned "media houses in mainland India" for allegedly covering up the incident in which 13 civilians were killed by the Army on December 4. "Come down and report from the ground," declared the indignant advisor.

Temper has been running high ever since TV news channels aired ‘expert comments’ that civilians were killed because they had helped insurgents escape. The Union Home Minister’s statement in Parliament that the civilians got killed because the vehicle they were travelling in had failed to stop, when asked to do so, had added to the anger.

The civilians, aged between 25 and 37, were returning from a coal mine where they had gone to earn some extra money before Christmas. Among the deceased was the father of a two-month old baby and a man who had got married barely nine days ago on November 25. So incensed were the people that an outfit ‘Oting Citizens’ Office’ issued a statement saying Indian armed forces "will not be allowed to enter the Oting village’s jurisdiction indefinitely". Villagers, the statement added, would not be responsible for “whatever happens” if the security forces failed to follow the directive.

Civil society in Nagaland alleged that the special forces had tried to pass off the killed civilians as militants by planting weapons and dressing them in camouflage and boots. The angry statement of the OCO used strong language to describe special forces as "unprofessional, half-trained, psychopaths and cowards". It warned that Nagas would be forced to return to the "head-hunting days" but "the target and enemy may vary this time".

A pick-up truck with eight coal miners was ambushed at 4.30 pm on Saturday by security forces. At 8 pm, villagers found the empty pick-up truck with “bullet marks on the windshield, bloodstains covered with dust and mud and the boys missing from the vehicle”. Subsequently, the villagers allegedly chased vehicles used by the special forces on motorcycles. “Though special forces denied any knowledge of the missing boys, a search found six of the missing miners under a tarpaulin in one of the vehicles,” the OCO claimed in the statement.


The authorities seem to have mishandled the situation by shutting down the Internet, restricting movement of the people and by forbidding family members of the deceased from speaking to the media.

A four-member Congress delegation, which was on its way to Oting, was detained at Jorhat airport, the nearest airport to Mon in Nagaland, triggering allegations that a cover-up was on. After a stand-off that lasted five hours, they were finally allowed to travel to Dibrugarh and meet the two survivors of the firing. Since Parliament is in session, an all-party delegation could surely have been rushed by the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha chairman.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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