The annual Hornbill Festival in Kohima was going strong on the evening of 4 December when tragic news arrived. Six men of the Konyak tribe had just been gunned down by personnel of the Indian Army’s 21 Para Special Forces near the village of Oting, in northern Nagaland. The army said the men were suspected militants, but they were just civilians coming home from a week-long shift at a nearby coal mine. A search party of villagers then clashed with soldiers departing the site, leaving another seven civilians and a soldier dead. As soon as they heard of the incident, the Konyak tribespeople performing at the festival stopped their songs of celebration and instead cried songs of lamentation, standing arm in arm.
By morning, Oting had become a familiar name across the state, as it would in the rest of the country over the next few days. Protests erupted across the states of the north-east as statement after statement was written in solidarity with the victims. What angered people most was the impunity guaranteed to the army personnel under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Within days, residents of Oting issued a statement declaring that they had barred “all groups and parties of various factions of the Indian arm forces indefinitely from entering Oting jurisdiction.” This was a symbolic move by a civic group and carried no weight in law, but it was especially charged in light of Nagaland’s long history of insurgency and separatism. “That is our stand, yes,” Khetwang, a member of the Oting village council, told me in late December. “It could be the first time that a village council has taken such a stand.” Though it was the festive season, “protests are continuing, our village mood is still low,” Khetwang said. “We have not celebrated Christmas, we have banned all activities like sports, music and all kinds of activities in the entire village. All the houses are hoisting black flags.”
On 20 December, the Nagaland legislative assembly passed a resolution condemning the massacre and demanding an official apology. The assembly also unanimously resolved “to demand that the government of India repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 from the Northeast and specifically from Nagaland.”