They have burnt down the grass to rid the spot where fellow villagers were gunned down on this day a year ago of the stench and stains of the blood that was spilled.
However, the memories of that fateful December 4, when a botched army operation claimed 14 lives in a case of mistaken identity, still pervade as people in this tiny hamlet of Nagaland remember the horror that overtook their humdrum lives.
“We have moved on in some ways, but the pain and feeling of suffering are still there. In Nagaland, we know to forgive, but we can’t forget this tragedy,” a community leader of Oting, Kheatwang Konyak, told PTI.
The people of Oting in Mon district in the northeastern state said they will erect a monolith in memory of the 14 people on the first anniversary of the killings.
On December 4 last year, six coal miners returning from work were killed in a botched ambush by the security forces at Oting village, while seven others were gunned down when angry villagers scuffled with them after discovering the bullet-riddled bodies of the labourers on an Army truck.
One security personnel was also killed in the melee. Another civilian was killed when a mob attacked an Assam Rifles camp at Mon town the next day.
“We have cleaned up the massacre site and burnt the old grass and other plants. We are trying to construct a monolith there. We are holding a memorial at the local ground here. We will be flying black flags and banners,” Konyak said.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Chongmei Konyak, a survivor of last December’s incident, added, “Life has returned to normalcy on the surface. But we all are facing mental, physical and financial problems.” Chongmei Konyak, who was in the team of locals who had reached the incident site after the first instance of firing by the armed personnel and was hit by a bullet on his foot, accused the government of not lending any financial help to the injured.
“They paid our treatment expenses, that’s it. Most of us are unable to return to our jobs as before and we are facing a lot of financial problems now,” the former Army Supply Corps personnel claimed.
Kheatwang Konyak also claimed that while the state government did provide jobs and ex-gratia to the next of kin of the deceased, those injured have been left in the lurch.
“Whether we cooperate with them or not, it will be a community decision. We want to build a good relationship with the Army again, but we can’t easily forget the massacre,” he said.
Nagaland Students’ Federation (NSF) general secretary Siipuni Ng Philo said they are firm on their ‘indefinite non-cooperation’ against the security forces following the Oting incident until justice is delivered to the victims.
“We will be holding a symbolic observation across the Naga homeland to commemorate the incident. Our stand on the non-cooperation towards the armed forces and para-military forces still stands,” he said.
The NSF, an influential organisation, had re-intensified protests and public rallies demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from the entire Naga-inhabited areas.
The AFSPA empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant besides giving immunity from arrest and prosecution to the security forces if they shoot someone dead.
The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) will observe December four and five as ‘Black Day’ in the entire eastern part of the state, its president R Tsapikiu Sangtam told PTI.
All households in six districts – Mon, Tuensang, Longleng, Kipjhire, Noklak and Shamator – will hoist ‘black flags’ on these two days, he said.
While maintaining that there has been a “delay in justice” for the victims, Sangtam said decisions on the future course of action will be taken after proper consultations with its tribal bodies.
The Nagaland government had formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the incident, which had submitted its charge sheet before a court against 30 personnel of the operations team of 21 Para Special Force of the Army involved in the Oting firing.
The Army had also constituted a Court of Inquiry (CoI), which has also completed its enquiry.
Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen. RP Kalita had said in May this year that the findings of the SIT and the CoI are being analysed.