The Shirui Incident
Appreciation, Credits & Positives in the Service of Peace

Capt (Retd) Ashok Y Tipnis *

Introduction :

Everyone felt a great sense of relief when information came through on 2nd February 2009, that with the safe passage of NSCN-IM cadre that morning, the operation and tense situation had ended. Not a shot was fired. No one injured. No one killed. The cease-fire was not broken. The Ground rules had been respected.

There are many credits won at Shirui. There are heroes who earn admiration. There are learnings and positives for the future. This article is an attempt to highlight these on account of their value for future efforts in the difficult quest for peace in Manipur and Nagaland.

The Situation of Shirui Incident :

The situation at Shirui was that NSCN-IM cadre had established a camp contrary to the cease-fire agreement and in contravention of the ground rules of the cease-fire. There are probably different perceptions and understanding in regard to this.

If the existence of this camp had come to the notice of visitors from the valley and others, who come to Shirui to climb the mountain of the Lily, there would have been a strong reaction from the valley and a barrage of protests, and disturbance of the present peaceful environment in Manipur.

If an unsuspecting patrol of the Security Forces had run into this post, an encounter could have occurred, causalities may have been sustained and the cease-fire broken with serious threat to the peace process. No one would want that to happen. No responsible citizens in the hills. None from the valley either.

In 2007, a camp near the Shirui village, in the mountain forest was detected by AR. The AR took action to remove it. However, the cadre made their get-away. Fortunately, no causalities occurred. And the threat to the ceasefire passed.

Yet, in 2009, the new camp was detected by AR. This evidently meant that cadre had returned. The AR carried the burden of responsibility, to remove the camp established in contravention of the Cease-fire Agreement and in violation of the ground rules.

But they had to do it, without breaking the cease-fire. They had to ensure strict compliance of the Cease-fire Agreement and the Cease-fire Ground Rules without firing a shot. They had to bear in mind the volatility in the valley over this issue.

It was also an emotive matter for the people of Ukhrul. It was a very difficult task. They accomplished this. And importantly, the honour of the cadre and the IM was kept intact. Relationship with the people was preserved. All actors were winners. A most creditable achievement and result to be cherished by all.

The Action at Shirui :

From 19 January to 2 February 2009, there was intense action at Shirui and in Ukhrul. The AR surrounded the unauthorised camp and cordoned off the area.

They held that position, amidst much mobilisation of the people and amidst the pressure of peaceful protest, and clamour and turmoil also in the press. For student bodies in New Delhi and students and other civil society organisations from Nagaland and from Imphal made impassioned appeals with contrasting claims and demands.

To their credit, the AR held firm, determined not to open fire but resolved to remove the cadre and their camp. With praiseworthy initiatives from civil society in Ukhrul, this was effectively done and on 2nd February 2009, the cadres were safely escorted out of Ukhrul district to an undisclosed location.

Not a shot was fired. No one injured. No one killed. The apprehensions of the Valley/Imphal were set to rest. The Cease-fire was maintained. The Ground rules were enforced without resort to deadly force. The Assam Rifles deserve to be credited and appreciated for fulfilling a difficult responsibility. This operation should earn respect and trust of all.

The NSCN cadre acquitted themselves creditably over these trying days. It is to be appreciated that the young cadre, did not open fire even after being cordoned for such a long time and being tired severely. Their eventual departure was honourable. It is to be surmised that they received prudent counsel and directions from their authorities whose cool headed response was necessary for resolving the crisis. They did well and wisely so. They deserve praise.

Peoples Amazing Response and Remarkable Action at Shirui and Ukhrul

It is clear that women and people of Shirui, surrounding villages and Hqs Ukhrul were deeply concerned about the safety of life of all involved, the cadre, the AR and the people. And all valued the cease-fire and its continuation.

The women of Shirui and surrounding villages formed a human barrier and interposed between the two armed groups and stayed their vigil, night and day in these winter weeks. They come out as the heroes of the action, with amazing support of TSL and other organisations in Ukhrul.

AR also extended humanitarian assistance, to the women and the people, not withstanding disruption of normal life. The women demonstrated women's power at its highest in tough conditions.

Civil society organisations at Ukhrul mobilised instantly and organised themselves to both observe the situation and support the women and people of Shirui. To their credit the sagacity displayed by them had critical impact on the action and the environment.

The 'committee' and all the social organisations convened by TNL deserve all praise. They have demonstrated power of constructive, cooperative action. And its immense potential.

No praise would be sufficient for Tangkhul Shanao Long. With the cooperation and support of women of all Tangs and Youth they reached out women and people of Shirui and kept vigil at Gandhi Chowk, Ukhrul, praying and singing in silent appeal. A true demonstration of women's soft power and non-violent intervention in situation of great tension and anxiety. They are a force of peace.

There were other actors that need mention. Amidst this spontaneous response, without any hysteria, a local Red-Cross Unit made a foray to Shirui and also advocates visited to highlight important obligations in dealing with the cordoned cadre. Laudable efforts all round.

To crown these efforts, the 'Committee' demonstrated great judgment and wisdom and sought special assistance and intervention from a well selected senior citizen delegation. The wisdom and counsel of this delegation had powerful influence on all concerned. They deserve the highest accolades. Their wise counsel made critical contributions in resolving the crisis and the situation.

It is good and to be appreciated that several NGOs from Imphal and the Valley made appeals for peaceful resolution in support of people of Shirui.

Some Positives with Value for the Future :

  • Women's power works. Even in situations of confrontation. Soft power and co-operation works. Together they offer solutions to problems.
  • Civil society, well organised and led as at Ukhrul can help official authorities to deal with issues and problems wisely and effectively.
  • To draw benefit from the experience of Shirui, Civil society may develop mechanism and proactive roles for peace promotion in normal times rather than only in crisis situation.
  • Mutual trust and respect pay dividends all round.
  • It is desirable and possible that without entering into invective and verbal combat through newspapers, civil society from the hills and the valley resort to exchange of delegations and face to face rational discussion to understand each others' points of view. Mutual suspicion and anger at a distance do not promote creative solutions which need mutual respect, dialogue and understanding.
  • Issues of cease-fire, territorial integrity of the States and Integration of Naga Inhabited area need to be openly discussed by civil society jointly between hills and valley. And between Nagaland and Manipur. If not these issues divide people. Only bringing pressure on Govt is not really productive when there is need to resolve differences in perception and expectations between people of hills and people of valley and States. As pointed out by Mr Isak Chishi Swu recently, dialogue is the only way to peace, not violence.
  • The statement of NSCN-IM endorsing people's participation is most significant. Peace process is not responsibility of Govt of India and Collective Leadership alone. People's patient, continued, constructive, democratic dialogue is important. Civil Societies in Ukhrul have demonstrated their potential and capability. It is desirable that this effort is continued pro-actively in the quest for peace.
  • For the moment, all have come out winners. There were no losers. A salute and praise for all.

* Capt (Retd) Ashok Y Tipnis wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on February 10 2009.

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