Human Rights issues in Manipur and participation of Tangkhul Women
- Part 3 -

Maireiwon Ningshen *

 Peace rally organised by United Naga Council (UNC) at Ukhrul district headquarters :: 30 August 2014
Peace rally organised by United Naga Council (UNC) at Ukhrul in August 2014 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

9 May 1994 firing incident in Ukhrul Town:

On 9 May 1994, at around 5.00 PM suspected NSCN men gunned down two Assam Rifles officers namely Major Sunil Bakshi and Captain Labh Singh belonging to 20 Battalion of Assam Rifles.( History Committee Tangkhul Sahanao Long, op.cit., 49). One Lance Naik was also injured. The incident took place some few yards away from the outpost of Ukhrul town. Following the attack the Assam Rifles fired indiscriminately and shelled about 20.2 inches mortars of high trajectory into the civil residential areas for more than one and half hour. (Memorandum submitted to His Excellency, Lt. Gen. V.K Nayar (Rtd), the then Governor of Manipur, through DC of Ukhrul on 2 June 1994 at the protest rally organized by All Naga Student Association Manipur (ANSAM) at Ukhrul, p.2).

It killed three persons of the population of the town. Those killed in the incident were Mrs. S. Mathotla (46) of Grihang Village, Mr Panghom Shimrah (83) of Ukhrul and Mr K. Sochihan (12) of Marem village (Ibid., 4). Apart from killing the civilians, the 20th Assam Rifles firing left many residential houses, government offices, educational institutions riddled with bullets and shrapnel of mortars. Even the household properties were smashed and destroyed.

From the night of 9 May 1994 till the morning of 10 May 1994 the Assam Rifles went berserk. In connection of this, the TSL organised a protest rally against the high handedness of the Assam Rifles and demanded the removal of AFSPA, 1958. The TSL, together with other student organisations, also brought the tragic episode to the knowledge of various different organisations of the state. It highlighted the atrocities committed by the Assam Rifles to the civilians in Ukhrul town. Consequently, on 2 June 1994 a mammoth rally was organised in Ukhrul town which was attended by over 20,000 people. (History Committee TSL, op.cit).

Those organisations that joined hands with the TSL in the protest included People's Democratic Movement (PDM), Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), All Manipur United Clubs Organisation (AMUCO), All Manipur Student Union (AMSU), All Naga Students Association Manipur (ANSAM), Tangkhul Mayar Ngala Long (TMNL), Tangkhul Naga Long (TNL), TKS etc.

A memorandum was submitted by all the organisations to the then Governor of Manipur Lt. Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Nayar demanding the - the National Human Rights Commissions to visit Ukhrul; immediate removal of Security Forces posts located in the middle of the town; ex-gratia amounting to a sum of rupees one lakh each to be paid to the bereaved families; maximum compensation to be paid to the injured persons/ families; recovery of the looted amount of money, articles and properties to the owners; adequate compensation to be paid for the damaged properties; and befitting action against the officers and jawans responsible for the atrocities committed. (Memorandum submitted to Lt.Gen. V.K Nayar, op.cit., 5). Finally, with more pressure coming from different organisations, the state government filed a case in the Guwahati High Court against the 20th Assam Rifles. (History Committee Tangkhul Shanao Long, op.cit., 49).

15 August 1994 bomb blast incident in Ukhrul Town:

This was one of the incidents where one witnessed massive turn-out of Tangkhul women to protect their men folk from atrocities by the armed personnel of the state. This time it was not so much the TSL but the common Tangkhul women who initially came out to protect their men folk. It so happened that the Independence Day celebration on 15 August 1994 was boycotted by the people of Ukhrul District as a protest against the issue of a Government order to deposit all licensed arms to the district police.

On that day at around 8:30 a.m. a bomb planted by some unknown undergrounds blasted in the main market of Phungreitang in Ukhrul town injuring two civilians. Immediately after that, the 20th Assam Rifles men who were patrolling the area started firing bullets indiscriminately to the civilians around. People who were coming out from the Sunday Church Service were also arrested and beaten up. The District Forest Officer Shri L. Puni Mao (IFS) together with many civilians were arrested and the Assam Rifles tried to take them away in their camp. (History Committee TSL, op.cit., 47).

At this point of time all the women folk who witnessed the scene came out boldly from their houses in the midst of the firing by the Assam Rifles and rescued those who were about to be taken away by the Assam Rifles. Those women who were coming from the Viewland Bazaar were fired upon by the Assam Rifles, yet they did not retreat in spite of the firings. As a result, thirteen women were injured. A First Information Report (FIR) to the Ukhrul police about the atrocities by the Assam Rifles was submitted by the TSL. (Zingkhai, op.cit., 36). A huge public meeting was also organised in the Tangkhul Naga Long ground and the President of the TSL strongly condemned the Assam Rifles for such an act.

Burning down of Huishu Village:

On 11 March 1996, some suspected NSCN (IM) men attacked the Assam Rifles Camp at Huishu village in Ukhrul District. The heavy exchange of fire between the two groups lasted for three hours. The episode was a notorious one in that this was the first time when women were used as a shield by the armed personnel of the Government of India. Khachungla a village woman was made to cover Captain Sharma with a Naga Shawl while approaching in the midst of the heavy exchange between the two groups. After the exchange of fire, the Assam Rifles torched the village, house by house after ransacking and collecting all the valuables in sacks at around 10:30 am. (

Except the church, school building and some few houses located at odd places, no other dwelling places were spared. One hundred seven houses were reported to have been burnt down. During this time the NPMHR Delhi along with other media organisations were trying to organise an All India Fact Finding Team to look into the human right related cases in the state. One member each of the Team was sent to all the districts of Manipur.

As a result, Miss Shirajli from Maharastra arrived at Ukhrul District. The TSL President Miss Veronica Zinkhai met Miss Shirajli and narrated in detail the atrocities committed to the civilians of the District by the armed personnel of the state. She also submitted a report along with photographs about the atrocities committed to the civilians covering the period from 1974 until 1996 including the Huishu village burning incident.

Apart from this, the TSL President, together with the Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong (TKS) and NPMHR, took Ms. Shirajli to Huishu Village so that she could witness firsthand what have actually happened in the village. The TSL requested the visiting team to help in the issues of - immediate repeal of Armed Forces (Special Power) Act 1958; and removal of 20th Assam Rifles post from the heart of Ukhrul. (Ibid.).

Thus in this way, the TSL worked for the protection and promotion of the human rights of the Tangkhuls. It also helped in highlighting the atrocities the people suffered in the local and national media. In recognition of its endeavours, the Indian Federation of Small and Medium News Papers (IFSMN) on its 10th Anniversary Celebration held on 20-21 September, 1995 in Bombay honoured TSL with an award. (Zingkhai, op.cit., p.37).

Tangkhul women and peace and unity movement:

The peace and unity movement was started by the Nagas after the Government of India and NSCN (IM) entered into a ceasefire agreement on 25 July 1997. The Nagas initiated this movement mainly with a view to accomplish two things: 1) to bring understanding and unity among all the Nagas, especially the two factions of NSCN and 2) to bring a permanent, peaceful and amicable solution to the vexed Naga issue in view of the Indo-Naga peace talk.

The Tangkhuls, with the rest of the Nagas, also took an active role in it. The Tangkhul women also have their own share of contributions in this regard. Their role in this can be viewed from two different angles. Firstly the work of the TSL with regard to this matter, and secondly the role Tangkhul women living inside as well as outside the state in their capacity as members of their respective localities, churches, other women groups, etc.

The year 1997 is considered as a historic year for the Naga people because it was in this year that the Indo-Naga peace talk began and the historic "ceasefire" between the Government of India and NSCN (IM) took place. On 25 July 1997 the then Prime Minister of India Mr I K Gujral announced in the Indian Parliament that the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) have mutually agreed on a ceasefire for three months with effect from 1 August 1997 and to initiate discussions at political level.( Souvenir Nagalim -50 Years of Resistance. op.cit., p.12.)

The terms of ceasefire between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) were as follows: the talk shall be unconditional from both sides; the talk shall be at the highest level, that is at the Prime Ministerial level; and the venue of the talks shall be anywhere in the world outside India. Thereafter, on 12 December 1997, both the parties representing the GoI and the NSCN-IM agreed for monitoring the ceasefire process by drawing members from both sides including some NGO's. The ceasefire, thereafter, was extended after every three months until 31 July 1998 but from 1 August 1998 onwards it was extended on annual basis, which is still being continued. (Chandrika Singh, New Delhi, 2004:185).

The ceasefire and peace talks have created some positive results, such as reducing the armed conflicts between the Naga underground group and the armed forces of the Indian Government. However, the factional fighting and conflicts between the two rival groups - the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K) did not stop in spite of the appeals made by different sections of the peace loving Nagas. This factional rivalry serves as an obstacle to the road for peace and normalcy in the Naga inhabited areas. In addition, it gives lots of insecurity to the Naga people.

It was against this backdrop that the Tangkhul women in general and the TSL in particular began to work together with other Naga civil organisations and church leaders for removing distrust among different Naga groups and for the unity and fraternity of all the Naga tribes. The TSL worked together with other bigger Naga civil organisations like the Naga Hoho, the United Naga Council (UNC), the Naga Women's Union, Manipur (NWUM), the Naga Mother Association (NMA), the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), etc.

The TSL participated in every agitation and campaign of peace organised by the different Naga civil bodies. For example, shortly after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a meeting with two top underground Naga leaders in exile, Isaac Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, in Osaka, Japan, on December 8, 2001 the Naga Hoho, an apex body of all the Naga tribal councils, launched a "reconciliation campaign" in Nagaland's capital Kohima to resolve the decades-long insurgency issue. The Naga Hoho believed that the problem cannot be solved without unity among the 52 Naga tribes. (Frontline, Vol. No. 19, Issue 03, Febraury 15, 2002: 42).

The TSL and other Tangkhul women residing in Nagaland joined in the reconciliation campaign. The TSL also became a part of every reconciliation meetings held in Ukhrul District from time to time. Whenever any reconciliation public meeting was held, the representatives of the TSL will come out and join the deliberations and discussions there and appeal to the different sections of the Nagas to work with unity and co-operation. They will even venture out to meet the leaders of the two factions of NSCN, viz., NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K), and urged them to sort out their differences peacefully and work together.

It is important to note that, the church also played an important role in this endeavour for peace. For example, in 1997, the 125 years of Christianity in Nagaland was celebrated in an unprecedented manner with a record of gathering of more than one lakh people at the Kohima ground. In this gathering everyone accepted that "the crying need of the land was peace, understanding and reconciliation in Christ". (Singh, op.cit.).

Appeal was also made to all the national workers "to stop fighting against one another." (North East Sun, Vol.3 No. 17, December 15-31, 1997: 13). Church leaders, Student Unions, Naga Hoho, and UNC, and various other Naga civil society groups together organised several rallies, demonstrations, fasting and mass prayers as a protest against the factional fights. The TSL joined all these campaigns organised by the Naga civil bodies at large. Besides, Tangkhul women groups inside churches also observed fasting and held prayer meetings in their respective churches for the reconciliation of all the factional groups among the Nagas, particularly the two factions of the NSCN.

The Churches of different denominations located in Ukhrul town conducted special prayer and fasting meetings for this purpose and Tangkhul women were always in majority during such gatherings. Not only the churches located in Ukhrul town, but also the Tangkhul Churches located in every village, and even in Imphal city also prayed for bringing peace and unity among the Nagas. Thus, the Tangkhul women took an active role in the movement for not only securing unity and understanding among various Naga factions but also in taking up initiatives to secure peace among the people. Indeed, they were always in the forefront while pursuing these goals.

To be continued ....

* Maireiwon Ningshen wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on March 20 2021.

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