On November 25, Hokup Konyak, a 38-year-old coal miner, married Monglong Konyak. The wedding was held in the hahshahapang, or village square, in Oting in Nagaland’s Mon district. Everyone in the village attended.
Eleven days later, his funeral was held in the same village square. “He was buried just a few metres away from where we got married,” said 35-year-old Monglong.
Hokup was one of 13 civilians who was killed in army firing on December 4. Early that evening, personnel from the 21 Para Special Forces of the Army had opened fire on a vehicle carrying miners home, apparently mistaking them for militants. Six miners were killed. Hours later, as news of the killings spread, angry residents closed in on the army vehicles, killing one soldier. The army opened fire again, killing seven civilians this time.
At their home in Oting, Monglong had heard gunshots and could not reach her husband on the phone. Worried, she called neighbours in the village and learnt he had been injured. When she finally got through to him, he was already fading.
“I don’t have the strength to speak now, I’ll speak to you later,” Hokup had told her. That would be the last time they spoke.
House of dreams
Hokup and Monglong first met in 2014 and fell in love a year later. “We loved each other very much,” said Monglong. “We were working hard to have a house of our own. That dream will remain unfulfilled.”
Money was short. Like many residents of Oting, Hokup worked in the mines on a daily wage and Monglong leads a women’s group at the local church. But they had managed to pay for their own wedding and were saving up to buy a plot of land.
Hokup was “honest and responsible”, said his grieving wife. All week, he stayed at the mines, about 6 km from their home, and returned on weekends. But he did not stay home last weekend. He visited on December 3 and returned to the mines that day.
‘Don’t want compensation’
As anger about the killings spread in Nagaland, the state government announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation and the Central government Rs 11 lakh as well as a government job to the family of each victim. But Hokup’s wife and mother are inconsolable.
“I’m asking the Indian army to return my son alive, we don’t want compensation,” said 67-year-old Neingam Konyak. Hokup was her youngest son, the only one to study till Class 10.
Monglong echoed her: “I only want my husband back.”
When she spoke about the army operation, however, sorrow turned to anger. “I want to see the face of those murderers,” she said. “They are not protectors but murderers. They should be punished. They should not be in the army.”
‘Leave our land’
At least two other guests at their wedding were killed on December 4. Langwang and Thapwang, 25-year-old twins, had been among the miners returning home in the vehicle that was shot down by the army.
The episode has shaken the village. Mon district, close to the border with Myanmar, has always seen security personnel pass through it. Several North Eastern militant groups are based across the border. But the residents of Oting cannot remember facing violence from the security forces. The tragedy of December 4, however, has made them re-evaluate the presence of security personnel.
Thirty-eight-year-old Naoman Konyak is a neighbour to Hokup’s family and also works in the coal mines. The killings of December 4, he said, were “spoiling” the name of the Indian army. “I was sure they would not shoot unarmed people,” he said. “But our thinking has changed. Joining the Indian army was the most honourable job but now villagers are demanding that they should leave our land.”