The North Eastern states of India have joined Jammu and Kashmir yet again in demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. After the killing of 14 civilians by the Army in Nagaland, it is the turn of the Nagaland government to write to the Center calling for the repeal of AFSPA. This comes just a day after Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K.Sangma has also described the controversial Act as counterproductive, and called for its repeal.

This assumes serious dimensions for the ruling party at the center as Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and part of the National Democratic Alliance. Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga has supported the Nagaland government, with the north east simmering with anger at the unfortunate killings which Union Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament were a case of “mistaken identity.”

Significantly the Nagaland police has filed a FIR claiming that the Army intention was to kill and injure the civilians. And that after the first round of fire in which several civilians were killed, the Army fired again ostensibly to ward off angry mobs, and killed more civilians. The Indian Army has of course done little more than to order an internal enquiry under a Major General.

The demand for AFSPA is now spreading again across the north east, after a hiatus with youth bodies also getting involved. The Hynniewtrep Youth Council has demanded the repeal as essential for a peaceful North East. The Northeast Students Organization , the largest body in the region, will begin protests across the states on December 9 for the repeal of AFSPA. An influential tribal body in Nagaland has sent a five point memorandum to the President of India for action against the soldiers in the incident. Mon district where the firing took place saw a complete shut down.

Statements apart no one could take away from the grief of the families who lost their relatives without any warning. This was at the hands of the Army’s elite 21 Para Special Forces, with videos in circulation showing women crying inconsolably holding garlands and almost fainting in their grief. Tragic stories are being carried by the local media, of a family who lost their twin sons; of a cancer patient who lost one son and his other son was battling for his life in hospital.

Mon shares a border with Myanmar and has always been a sensitive district. Nagaland has been a little more peaceful ever since the accord between the NSCN-IN and the center, negotiated by the Manmohan Singh government and finalized by the BJP in its first term at the center. However, the details of the accord have never been fully revealed but the peace surrounding it has held.

However, these killings by the Army feeds into the brewing discontent and anger that has led even the region's allies with the BJP to demand the withdrawal of the Act. This has been a major bone of contention through the years with Irom Sharmila leading the longest hunger strike recorded here for its repeal. Successive governments in Delhi ignored her appeal, choosing to isolate rather than listen to her as an important voice from the ground.

The demand for the abolition of AFSPA has again occupied the center state, with the call coming from chief ministers and governments in alliance with the BJP. The growswell of anger has compelled the state governments in the northeast to add their voices to those of the people for the repeal of a law that is seen as a license to atrocities across India’s border states in the north.

Several Opposition parties have also demanded the same in Parliament. The government might find it difficult to clamp down on the demand, as it did in Jammu and Kashmir, as it has many allies in government here. Besides, the tribals and the youth are a force who cannot be easily subjugated and both have taken the lead in insisting on the repeal. New Delhi now has a huge problem on its hands, and Shah’s statement in Parliament showed that it is not on top of this emerging situation.

Amid Anger Over Nagaland Op Deaths, Distressing Scenes As 12 Are Buried

Cover photograph Courtesy NdTV