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Naga Christians walk against Indian army abuse

Nagas demand repeal of draconian AFSPA and justice for 14 people killed by Indian army last month

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: January 11, 2022 08:12 AM GMT

Updated: January 11, 2022 10:08 AM GMT

Naga Christians walk against Indian army abuse

Thousands of Nagas took part in a walkathon from commercial hub Dimapur to state capital Kohima on Jan. 10 and 11. (Photo: UCA News)

Thousands of people, mostly Christians, in India's northeastern state of Nagaland took part in a two-day walkathon from commercial hub Dimapur to capital Kohima demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and justice for Naga Christians killed by the Indian army last month.

Protesters including civil society activists and women and children took to the streets on Jan. 10-11 and carried placards demanding the repeal of the controversial law which was enforced in Nagaland to curb secessionist groups and armed rebellion in 1956.

"May Naga people's voices be heard, loud and clear. This is by far the most powerful non-violent movement against AFSPA," Naga activist Rosemary Dzuvichu told UCA News.

Some 14 Naga Christians were killed by Indian army paratroopers following a botched anti-insurgency operation in Mon district on Dec. 4 that mistook mine workers for terrorists.

The AFSPA gives immunity to soldiers as they have permission to search and shoot people on mere suspicion and cannot be tried in civil courts.

Nagaland has been home to the oldest insurgency in northeast India with multiple guerrilla groups operating from their hideouts in jungles bordering Myanmar.

In their walkathon, protesters trekked along hills and tough terrain for about 75 kilometers on National Highway 02 braving the chilly winter

“The latest incident is a reminder of what our people have faced for years," Baptist Naga leader Rev V. Atsi Dolie told UCA News last month.

In their walkathon, protesters trekked along hills and tough terrain for about 75 kilometers on National Highway 02 braving the chilly winter.

The demand for the repeal of the AFSPA was made last month at a special one-day session of the state assembly but the move was rejected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's federal government on Dec. 30.

The AFSPA as mandated by law was again extended for six months and the entire state of Nagaland was declared "dangerous and disturbed" by a Home Ministry communication.

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The Modi government has, however, set up an AFSPA review panel headed by India's census chief Dr. Vivek Joshi.

The panel comprising military and civil officials including the Indian army and the provincial Nagaland government was given three months to submit its report.

The federal government in Delhi is faced with a predicament as top army officers and the Defense Ministry are opposed to any move that would dilute the AFSPA’s operation.

Their argument is that without enforcement of the AFSPA, the Indian army cannot guard some of these states like Nagaland and Manipur and fight insurgency.

Security forces say that wherever the AFSPA has been withdrawn, militant groups indulge in lawlessness and rampant extortion from the civilian population.

Senior army officer Lt. Gen. P.C. Nair recently gave an interview to The Week magazine in which he claimed that "maximum extortion takes places where the AFSPA has been withdrawn."

"Over the years, the purpose of collection and utilization of that money changed. It created millionaires from the unabated extortion, which is termed by the Naga [militant] groups as ‘taxation.’ Almost every day, the Assam Rifles [a paramilitary force] arrests such people [extortionists]. But the common man continues to pay and suffer."

We Nagas are more than sincere this time. Let us have the peace pact at the earliest

On the AFSPA repeal issue, Nair said: "It is for the government to decide, but I do hope you understand the compulsions that we face in a counterinsurgency environment."

Some of the participants in the walkathon submitted a memorandum to state governor Jagdish Mukhi demanding repeal of the AFSP.

The Nagas, who are concerned with both the issues of extortion by Naga militant groups and abuse of the AFSPA, say all the complex army deployment-related issues would die a natural death if there was a permanent solution to the Naga insurgency.

"We Nagas are more than sincere this time. Let us have the peace pact at the earliest," said N. Kitovi Zhimomi, convener of the Naga National Political Groups, an umbrella body of seven militant groups.

Demands for the repeal of the AFSPA have come up in other Indian states including Jammu and Kashmir.

In July 2021, opposition leaders wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind requesting him to withdraw the AFSPA along with other “black laws” like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the National Security Act (NSA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA).

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