Oting: Walking the path to healing and forgiveness

The charred remains of vehicle belonging to security personnel involved in the Oting killings of December 2021 still remains at the site. (Morung Photo)

The charred remains of vehicle belonging to security personnel involved in the Oting killings of December 2021 still remains at the site. (Morung Photo)

Sentina Ozukum 
Dimapur | June 9

The Naga Church has a defining part to play in fostering peace and reconciliation, particularly as demonstrated following the December 2021 Oting incident in Mon district. Faced with the challenge of restoring peace and pursuing justice, the church’s efforts to mediate, uphold truth, encourage forgiveness and collective healing have helped the community navigate the complexities of recovery after the violent military ambush.

Mediator: From Pulpit to Peace Table
The church has contributed to nurturing peace through mediation and offering spiritual guidance. In the case following the Oting incident the churches supported mediation to ensure a peaceful atmosphere and prevent the situation from spiraling.

Reverend Peihwang Wangsa, Literature and Education Secretary of the Konyak Baptist Bumeinok Bangjum (KBBB), said that during the Oting incident ‘there was unrest on the issue of burial, but because of the church’s intervention, the funeral was conducted without any problem, and the bodies were peacefully sent back to Oting.’ “We mediated for a peaceful atmosphere,” he said. 

The Reverend shared that KBBB applied the approach of “prayer and faith to mediate and appease between the different parties.”

Right Reverend Daniel Ponraj Bishop of the Church of Frontier Peoples said, “In the Oting incident, the churches helped with the peace and to calm the tensions between the different conflict parties.” He highlighted, “When the people were hurt, the churches contributed to helping the people find purpose and healing even in times of suffering.”

The Bolero pick-up carrying the eight coal miners riddled with bullets still stand at the site where six of them were killed on the spot on December 4, 2021. (Morung Photo)

Reconciliation: The Prophetic Methodology
Historically, the church has served as a sanctuary for those seeking solace during difficult times.

And following the Oting incident, ‘…the local church of Oting turned into a safe haven for the people in offering hope and stability to their community grappling with grief and resentment,’ the Pastor of the Oting Church, T Nokyem Konyak outlined. “The church became a place for the community to come together and share their pain, and it became an important rostrum for truth-telling and dialogue,” Pastor Nokyem recollected. 

“In hard times, the church tried to become a sanctuary for those seeking solace,” Reverend Peihwang reiterated while adding, “We aimed to give the people a platform for truth-telling, forgiveness, and dialogue.”

Truth-telling: A Collective Ethical Responsibility
The church facilitates as a truth-telling agent, by providing a safe environment and upholding the principles of integrity, honesty, and transparency. Truth-telling is essential where a culture of impunity exists and accountability is compromised.

Right Reverend Ponraj, who is also the Vice President of Bishop Council, Jharkhand, pointed out, “Truth is the centre of all reconciliation.” He observed that through the church's efforts in facilitating truth-telling, which led to a deeper understanding of the Oting tragedy and supported the local community’s collective recovery and healing process.

Pastor Nokyem also stressed on the significance of truth-telling stating, “The church’s mission is to make sure that the truth is known and heard and that those responsible are held accountable because commitment to truth helps to create a strong foundation for sincere reconciliation.”

Forgiveness as the Path to Healing
After the Oting incident, forgiveness guided the churches in fostering peace and healing the community.

Reverend Peihwang shared that “the church sought to foster forgiveness and peace.” He commented, “…the process of forgiveness is a long-term healing journey for which the church offers ongoing, continuous assistance through prayer and spiritual guidance to bring peace among the people.”

Right Reverend Ponraj recounted that finding peace is sometimes to help those who hurt you accept what they have done. “And so, justice is not about finding revenge; it is about finding peace with one another and with what has happened so that we can heal together,” he added. 

He also expressed that, “forgiveness comes as a collective, which will further lead to collective healing.”

Is Peace and Reconciliation possible in the absence of Justice?
Justice is deeply intertwined with peace and reconciliation, since peace without justice is seen as incomplete. However, in the case of Oting, the church has been tirelessly searching for a path of genuine peace and reconciliation even though the question of justice remains unresolved. 

“Though we preach for forgiveness but we also believe in truth-telling and justice,” Pastor Nokyem said and added that “people who are responsible should ask for apology and should be held accountable.” 

“This is how our people will truly heal,” he remarked. 

Reverand Peihwang emphasised, “It is important for us to know the individuals at fault so that the victim’s family as well as the community can forgive and heal.” He emphasised “How can [we] forgive without knowing the people responsible?” And declared “This is the justice we want.”

The writer is a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati. She is currently an intern at The Morung Express.