‘I am broken inside’: Grief sweeps Nagaland village of 14 killed
Darkness had started to fall on Saturday afternoon when Monglong heard the faint boom of gunshots. The 35-year-old pastor had just seen off her husband, Hokup, who worked at a coal mine in Nagaland’s far-flung Mon district, and didn’t think too much of it.
Hokup had just left their home in Oting village for the mine nearby with some friends. The couple had wed nine days before and she was eager to see him back home later that night. Deep in thought, she drifted off to sleep.
She remembered being jolted out of sleep some hours later by relatives and neighbours, who told her that she had to lead prayers for some “brothers” who died in a firing. Dread rising in her, she started to call her husband frantically -- it was night but he was still to return.
“I called so many times but he didn’t answer…. Then I called one of his friends who answered and told me that Hokup had an injury on his hand,” Monglong said.
“When I insisted to speak to him, I heard him saying that he was in a lot of pain that he would talk to me later and hung up,” she added.
The man she spoke to was wrong. Hokup was not injured in the hand, but shot in the chest, fatally. A few hours later, he died. “I couldn’t breathe when they told me that Hokup was dead,” she said.
In the small village of Oting, roughly 300km from the state capital of Kohima, there are many like her who are mourning the loss of their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands. Many of the residents -- a father battling cancer, a mother with twin sons -- are yet to come to terms with the grief that has swept the region since an elite military commando unit gunned down 14 civilians in a botched operation on Saturday.
“I cannot comprehend fully what is going on, I don’t know what will happen to me,” Monglong said.
Their stories of pain and anguish reverberate in the empty homes that dot the mountains in the region, and echo far away in Delhi where Parliament has been roiled by the killings. Thousands of people from across the state have poured into their humble village, where the men, most of whom worked at a local coal mine, were laid to rest on Monday.
But for the kin of the victims,it means little.
Ngamlem, whose husband Langtun fell to the army bullets, is left to tend to her two-month-old child. Married a little over a year ago, she is inconsolable. “Brother I can’t talk...” she wailed, surrounded by mourners in Mon town.
Chemwang, a cancer patient, couldn’t believe that his son and sole caregiver, Shomwang, is gone. Shomwang had bought a pick-up truck and used to drive it for a living, ferrying villagers from a coal mine in Tiru area.
“They killed my innocent son...I am broken inside. I have been unwell, he used to take care of me...I will go mad, what will I do,” said Chemwang. To bystanders and mourners, his only question was, “Why did they do this?”
Awan Konyak was in shock. Her twin sons, Langwang and Thapwang, worked at the mine and died in the ambush. “They should have known innocents are travelling the truck. The government should ensure my sons get justice,” said Awan, 66. “Both were our only hope. Now, who will take care of us?” she asked.
The army’s 21 Para special force unit was conducting an operation in the area after receiving inputs on the possible movement of militants of Yung Aung faction of the proscribed outfit National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K).
Based on intelligence inputs that have since been disputed, the commandos laid an ambush on Saturday evening and killed six men who were in a pick-up truck. Another eight people were killed by troops when they were confronted by a furious crowd in two separate incidents, with a soldier also being killed and army vehicles set ablaze.
Nagaland Police’s FIR named the army’s elite special unit behind the killings and claimed that the security forces had intention to murder and injure civilians. The security forces personnel tried to hide the dead bodies by wrapping and loading them in a pickup truck, according to the report by the state director general of police and commissioner.
In Oting, the grief of the residents is laced with anger. Many families say those responsible for the killing should be arrested and punished for the crime. “They cannot bring him back but I want justice. That whoever is guilty is punished,” Monglong said.
The memories of Saturday continue to sear her. Hokup had returned the day before to attend the funeral of a friend. The couple later shared a simple meal of rice and mustard leaves before he rushed back -- so that he could back early that night. “How was I to know that it was the last time we were meeting?” she asked?
(With agency inputs)