LONGDING, May 17: Locals of Pumao village here in Longding district have strongly objected to the Indian Army’s recent statement regarding the 16 May incident wherein a civilian, Lamdaan Lukham (60) was shot dead and various others injured in a firing by the 19th Sikh Regiment and termed it as “absolutely false” and “fabricated.”
As per the statement released by Tezpur based defence PRO Harsh Wardhan Pande, insurgents had open fire on the security forces using civilians as human shields and that the civilian had died in the crossfire.
This was contested by the locals, who stated that the incident occurred during a peaceful meeting between the villagers and army regarding an incident involving a few army personnel, who had beaten up one Jimphu Wangnow for no reason a day earlier on 15 May.
The official report from the district administration and the statement from both Longding deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police also corroborate the local’s version of the said incident.
However, despite this, the defence PRO’s statement went on to state that the Indian Army had received intelligence inputs in the last few days regarding movement and activities of NSCN (IM) cadres in Longding district.
According to the defence PRO’s statement, “On 16 May, based on the specific input regarding presence of insurgents in Village Pumao, the troops of Indian Army launched a search operation in general area Pumao.”
“There was a gathering of villagers which started protesting against security forces and resorted to stone pelting. Troops identified suspicious movement and started moving towards a house which drew two to three bursts of fire on Indian Army party. Civilians were told to disperse and to safeguard lives and in property controlled retaliation fired eight single shots.”
“In this melee, insurgents managed to escape, however, in this cross fire it is believed few villagers have got hurt and one villager has expired.”
The Indian Army also claimed that many soldiers got injured due to stone pelting by supporters of NSCN (IM).
However, many have questioned as to how the army conducted such an operation without informing and taking the aid of state police, which is the usual procedure in such scenarios.
Some of the locals of Pumao village have also come forward with more details regarding the series of incidents leading to the unfortunate incident on Saturday last which further contradict the Indian Army’s claim.
Speaking to this daily on Sunday, one of the locals informed that earlier on 14 May, one Nokchai Wangsu, who was going to the CO’s office was picked up on his way by the army for some enquiry. He was taken to their base at Longding and after beating him mercilessly, released him with the warning that he will not disclose their act (beating him) to anyone.
“He was made to sign a paper, the content of which was not known to him. Out of fear, he didn’t tell anybody except some close friends. Again, on 15 May, one Jimpho Wangnaw who was returning after church service was picked up by the same group of army personnel for some enquiry. He was also beaten up very badly. He told us that the army personnel tortured him by pushing his head inside a drum filled with water repeatedly. He was let go only after midnight.”
“On getting information about the inhumane torture of the duo, the villagers assembled in the Pumao chief’s residence on 16 May in order to have talks with the army jawans. The army jawans were also present in the meeting venue in order to have talks with the villagers. Later, when Nokchai Wangsu was brought in the meeting hall by the villagers to get the first hand information, the villagers started to pray before the start of the meeting which was their usual custom. But on seeing Nokchai being brought in the meeting, the jawans started to flee the venue out of fear that their inhuman acts will be disclosed. However, the villagers told them to come back for the talks but the army jawans didn’t stop. Some women also asked the army jawans to come back to the meeting but they had by then cocked their guns. This angered some youths; an argument ensued and there was pushing and shoving between the locals and the jawans. The army jawans pushed back with their guns and fired shots in the air which angered the locals who resorted to pelting stones at them. The army jawans then started firing indiscriminately at the gathering. They fired shots after shots. When one clip of their guns finished, they loaded another clip and fired another round of bullets on unarmed villagers,” informed the local.
Another local has said that the army’s version of the Pumao incident is “fabricated and a cover up for their failed mission to buy peace with villagers after they severely thrashed the villagers.”
One local further informed that the indiscriminate fire had also injured an old man who was at his home and not even in the meeting.
“The indiscriminate firing could have killed him. A bullet grazed his forehead; it could have otherwise hit him and he would have died. One Naiwang Wangsu (17) who was hit by a bullet in the leg is still undergoing treatment at Dibrugarh, while another three also received a few minor injuries in the firing,” he said.
“Locals are saddened by the army’s statement. The indiscriminate firing by their jawans had killed Lamdaan Lukham. What will happen to his children? Naiwang Wangsu who suffered bullet injuries to the leg is also a husband and a father. What about them? Don’t our lives matter to them?” he asked.
The villagers have also lodged a complaint with the Longding police and a case has been registered on Sunday.
Longding SP BR Reddy has informed that an enquiry is currently on.
Authorities have further informed that the army is yet to declare any compensation. Only the state government has announced ex-gratia to the victims.
However, the state government has maintained an eerie silence over the incident and is yet to issue any official statement.
Meanwhile, various community based organizations of Longding district, along with representatives of village chiefs, gaon burahs, former PRI leaders and general public have demanded immediate arrest of the army jawans involved in the firing and brutal killing of Lamdan Lukham and injury of other civilians.
In a meeting held at the Tingpong Wangham badminton hall, Longding on Sunday, they urged the 19th Sikh Regiment, Longding battalion to provide a compensation amount of Rs 50 lakh to the family of the deceased and Rs 10 lakh to the severely injured Naiwang Wangsu.
They also sought an amount of Rs 5 lakh as compensation to each victim, namely Nokchai Wangsu, Jimpho Wangpan, Amok Wangsu, Panphua Wangpan and Champoh Wangpan.
They also appealed to the government of Arunachal Pradesh to provide government jobs to one of the kith and kin of the deceased Lamdan Lukham on compassionate ground.
The members also demanded inclusion of members from CBOs of the Wancho community in the judicial investigation and enquiry committee to ensure that the investigation is carried out in a transparent manner.
The members have also strongly condemned the fabricated news spread both by the 19th Sikh Regiment, Longding battalion and some national media alleging that Lamdan Lukham was killed during a cross fire with the NSCN (IM).
“These false allegations must immediately be withdrawn,” they added.
The CBOs have also decided to take out a peace rally here on Monday.
The North East Student’s Organization (NESO) has also strongly condemned the killing of Lukham.
“The heinous crime purported by the Indian Army has severely contradicted the very underlying purpose for which they have been deployed for in the region which is to maintain law and order and to guard against external aggression,” the NESO stated.
The NESO viewed that such instances which have repeatedly taken place in different parts of the region over the years have widened the gap between the civilians and the armed forces in such areas.
There has to be accountability for such omission and commission, it said and further demanded that the government extend appropriate ex-gratia to the deceased and injured people, while calling for a thorough inquiry into the whole matter.