For families of Oting victims and survivors, election just another ‘event’

OTING, 19 Feb: For Kamyin, the election for a new Nagaland assembly has no meaning as the septuagenarian’s life revolves only around her young son, reduced to a vegetative state after being injured in a botched up counter-insurgency operation by the army in December 2021.
On 4 December, 2021, six coal miners returning from work were killed in a botched ambush by the security forces at Oting village of Mon district, while seven others were gunned down when angry villagers scuffled with them after discovering the bullet-riddled bodies of the labourers on an army truck.
One jawan was also killed in the melee. Another civilian was killed when a mob attacked an Assam Rifles camp in Mon town the next day.
Yeihwang was among the two persons who survived the ambush on the coal miners’ vehicle, while 10 others were also injured in the violence that had followed.
“I am glad that my son survived. My life is now confined to looking after all his needs,” Kamyin said through an interpreter as the 34-year-old Yeihwang laid covered in a blanket from head to toe on the floor of the family’s kitchen.
Her elder son, who is now the sole bread winner of the four-member family, was more matter-of-fact when he questioned, “He did survive, but is he alive?”
“After the initial treatment and ex gratia of Rs 50,000, we have not received any government assistance. Our brother is now beyond the help of doctors. Timely intervention might have helped him,” the elder brother said.
For Yeihwang’s family and those of other survivors and victims, election is just another “event,” though some from the village are more hopeful as the ‘angh’ (king) is in fray this time.
“Ex gratia has been paid, government jobs provided to kin of those killed. But that’s all the government help we have received. Our people are just struggling to make both ends meet,” said Chenwang Konyak, whose young son was at the steering wheel when the vehicle was attacked and he died on the spot.
“People tell us to forgive and forget. But whom do we forgive? First we have to be told that these were the people responsible for the incident,” Chenwang, a cancer survivor who also suffered a serious brain stroke after his son’s death, added as he waits for ‘justice’.
For Lenwang Konyak, non-withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) from Mon is another form of “denial of justice.”
“After the tragic incident, there was a widespread demand for withdrawal of AFSPA. It got removed from many parts of the state but it remains in our place, where it had led to the greatest wound. We feel it is also a kind of denial of justice,” he said.
Local youth Pongnai Konyak is more hopeful that changes will come for the better, pinning his expectations on Tahwang Angh, who is contesting on a Naga People’s Front ticket.
“Our Oting angh is contesting. He was working for the area even before the election, especially for improving connectivity. We are hopeful he will bring positive changes if elected,” he said.
A member of the village council, Lapwang does not have much faith in the elected representatives as they have hardly brought any change to their lives.
“The people are not concerned about the election as we don’t have any expectation from the political leaders. One of our leaders went to the Rajya Sabha after the Oting incident but we don’t know what she has done for us. We are awaiting justice for the victims and some succour for the survivors’ families,” he added.
Oting comes under Tizit assembly constituency, which is currently represented by P Paiwang Konyak of the BJP, who is also the minister for transport, civil aviation and railways in the outgoing government.
The third candidate in the fray is T Thomas Konyak of the Congress.
The Nagaland government had formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the incident, which had submitted its chargesheet before a court against 30 personnel of the operations team of the 21 Para Special Force of the army involved in the Oting firing.
The army had also constituted its own court of inquiry (CoI) , which has also completed its inquiry.
Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen RP Kalita had said in May last year that the findings of the SIT and the CoI are being analysed.
The 60-member Nagaland assembly will go to the polls on 27 February, while the counting of votes will be taken up on 2 March. (PTI)