“I can vividly remember the horrific incidents that took place in my native village,” Samshun Changmi, an executive member of the All Changlang District Students Union, from Yanman village in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district, told me. “At that time, in 1999, I was 12 or 13 years old. It was Saturday morning; we were in the school and then suddenly we heard the sound of gunfire in broad daylight. The Indian Army troops openly fired upon the suspects.” The Indian government often uses “suspects” to refer to those it considers members of armed revolutionary groups. According to Changmi, the suspects at whom the jawans fired were Burmese civilians who had come from their village to fetch packages of salt and some groceries. “As a kid I was frightened to death and so were the rest of the villagers—that was no less than a horror film,” Changmi said.
Changmi hails from a Naga-dominated village, many of which are scattered across the districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding, in Arunachal Pradesh. In a press release dated 24 October 2017, the Tirap, Changlang and Londgding People’s Forum—an apex organisations of the Nagas of the three districts—stated that these districts “were left outside Nagaland state when the statehood for Nagas was granted in 1963.” The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), the most prominent Naga secessionist movement, has long demanded that these districts, as well as Naga dominated areas in Manipur and Assam, be integrated into a new territory called Greater Nagaland, or Nagalim.
The conflict in Nagaland is India’s longest lasting insurgency, which has continued in one form or another since 14 August 1947 when the Naga National Council—the oldest Naga national organisation—declared an independent Naga nation. On 16 May 1951, the NNC organised a plebiscite in which 99 percent of Nagas voted in support of an independent Naga nation. The conflict has left a permanent scar on not only the Naga people but on the various other ethnicities in neighbouring Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar. The Institute of Conflict Management, a Delhi-based non-profit society, has recorded 2,521 casualties since 1992 in the conflict in Nagaland alone, including 1,463 armed cadre and 787 civilian deaths. In 1997, the NSCN (IM) and the Indian government signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement, and the two sides have been attempting to reach a peace agreement ever since.
“Fortunately, though no villagers were injured or hurt, many lost livestock like cattle and pigs in large numbers as the bullets fired ended up on these innocent animals,” Changmi told me, speaking about the attack on his village in 1999. “And most horrors were yet to come as the troops began to search for the suspects in each and every house of the village. None of the villagers protested, instead we were made to stand outside for hours until searches of sixty houses were completed. The most horrific part was when they started to interrogate the shopkeeper and the village headman and tortured and beat them up until they were admitted to hospital.”
Despite the Indian government having signed a ceasefire with the NSCN (IM) and currently participating in peace talks with them, clashes between the two have been frequently reported, including twice in 2020 alone. On 16 May, the Indian Army attacked protesting villagers in Longding district, who they claimed were hiding NSCN (IM) armed cadre. Army firing injured several villagers and killed a 60-year-old civilian. The All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union condemned the attack saying, “When the law keepers start terrorising their own people and start taking innocent life in a democracy, it negates the very purpose for what they have been assigned in this part of the country.” Again, on 11 July, NDTV reported that security forces including the Arunachal Pradesh Police, the Indian Army and the Assam Rifles gunned down six men suspected to be a part of NSCN (IM), in Longding district. This is despite the ceasefire.