Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Oting and AFSPA

Leaving aside what has been said so many times and in so many years about the controversial and draconian Armed Forces (Special)Powers Act 1958; the people of Nagaland and also those in other parts of the north east have been reminded that this law is for the outlaws. The shocking incident at Oting on December 4 evening when 13 innocent Konyaks were cold-bloodedly mowed down in two separate incidents by the army’s elite 21 Para Commandos is still a painful memory. Another died the next day in Mon when protestors who went on rampage against the security forces was shot dead by the Assam Rifles. The national outrage which echoed across the globe was more than what the government of India could afford to ignore. Even the statement of union home minister Amit Shah in parliament that truck carrying the victims did not stop when asked to by the 21 Para commando unit; confirmed that the defence establishment is unwilling to accept wrongdoing. The Oting incident, was a massacre of the innocents by a trigger happy elite commando unit. The officer of the unit, a Major in-charge of the 30 personnel on that black day, was responsible for the conduct of his men even if the operation was actually like a road frisking duty. The 21 Paras is not a greenhorn unit but a reputed commando battalion. After the Oting incident on December 4, 2021, the army should have placed the 21 Paras under watch. However even as the state police team launched investigation into the Oting incident and followed by a Court of Inquiry (CoI) by the army led by an officer in the rank of Major General; personnel of the 21 Paras again gunned down two Manipuri separatist rebels on January 13,2022 in what is believed to be a “low-intensity surgical strike” in Myanmar. The same 21 Paras was also involved in “Operation Hot Pursuit” in 2015 inside Myanmar. Indeed, the 21 Paras being in the thick of things is not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, the desire for earning medals come at a high price where innocent civilians are often victims. There are many Otings in Nagaland as well as the north east but too few have been probed as the army brass is more inclined in protecting the morale of the personnel and less inclined in pursuing justice. The Oting incident also exposed how the uniformed personnel conduct counter-insurgency as well as surgical strikes. This is not to mean that all operations were criminal but the series of operations by the reputed 21 Paras need to be highlighted. The Nagaland Police has finally charge sheeted the 30 personnel including the unit commander a major for the crime. The Army’s CoI has also completed its probe. It now has to order a court martial but when, is the question. Meanwhile, the charge sheet prepared by the SIT means police has cleared the decks for taking the case to court and put the personnel of the 21 Paras under trial. The army now has to decide on what it will do with regard to bringing the guilty to book. The focus will be on the government’s stand over AFSPA, if the army maintains it was asked to tackle the situation under AFSPA and therefore, is insulated from civil courts.

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