Hundreds of people from Nagaland came out in protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, on Monday. The march began in Dimapur city and will end in state capital Kohima on Tuesday. With the 75-km-long “March against AFSPA”, the citizens will demand that AFSPA be repealed in the state.
AFSPA gives Army personnel sweeping powers to search, arrest, and to open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”. The controversial Act was extended in Nagaland for six months on December 30. The government had said that the state is in a “disturbed, dangerous condition” and thus, the use of armed forces to help the civil authorities was deemed essential.
On the evening of December 4, the Army’s 21 Para Special Force had opened fire at a pick-up van carrying coal miners from Tiru to Oting village in Mon district, killing six on board. They had apparently mistaken the group of workers for insurgents.
A crowd of protestors then set fire to vehicles belonging to the Army. They opened fire again, killing seven more civilians.
The violence spilled over into the afternoon of December 5 after locals entered a camp of the Assam Rifles in the district headquarters of Mon. At least one more person was killed after security forces fired back at the protestors.
In a first information report, the Nagaland Police had said that the Army’s 21 Para Special Force had fired with “intention to murder and injure” the civilians.
The protest march was initiated by the public and not any civil society organisations or political parties, said Kevitho Kera, one of the organisers. “It is a march on foot from Dimapur to Kohima starting from January 10 early morning and reach Kohima on January 11 after halting at Piphema for the night on January 10,” he added.
He said that more people were likely join them on their way to Kohima. “We are overwhelmed by the response in our quest for justice,” Kera added. “People even from outside Nagaland want to join us.”
In Kohima, the protestors will submit a memorandum to the governor.
“The gun-toting soldiers cannot be given a free hand in our land or anywhere,” Kera told The New Indian Express. “Under the shield of AFSPA, a lot of atrocities have been committed. The massacre of civilians at Oting is a reminder of how this diabolical act works. A partial lifting of the AFSPA will not solve the problem.”
On December 20, the Nagaland Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution urging the Centre to withdraw AFSPA from the North East region, especially from Nagaland. The resolution was passed condemning the killing of 14 civilians. On December 26, the government had announced the formation of a panel to discuss the repeal of AFSPA from the state.