Prisoners in their Own Land

Nehemiah Rong

To recount and retell the tale of the Oinam nightmare accounts will never end and can ever end in a week or year, it will be an endless story for me, said one of the elders to this writer. Only tears welcome me, a lump in my throat makes me numb when I try to rethink of those horrors and terror ridden torturous moments in our land shared another man. 

Prison is a place of confinement for convicted criminals or persons awaiting trial says Oxford Dictionary. It is a place where criminal are kept. Prisoners were tortured, humiliated, abused physically and sexually assaulted but all excesses committed against prevailing law was brought before law court and the perpetrators are punished. Punished on ground of violation of human rights. 

Once children woke up to see their mothers go to fields early in morning without any fear. Rape stories of women folk never heard of. Terrifying stories of our men folk buried alive was horrifying. Women giving birth in open ground in full view of jawan was a nightmare to even dream on. 

Day in and day out people were forced to sit in rain and sun, herded like cows in the concentration camps sometimes in the Churches and open ground. The land itself becomes a prison. The people became prisoners in their own land. Everyday the names were checked. From dawn people wake to pound their paddy rice, fetch water and cook. After food the women, children, old ones march towards concentration camp. In dusk they come back home, fetch water, split firewood, again pound rice, cook eat and sleep. At midnight again the Soldiers march up and down Village Street, near the houses. People were tired but sleepless because of fear. 

Inside the Church people were interrogated. The Soldiers climbed and searched even the Church ceilings. Soldiers smoked and littered inside the Church. ‘Mother has not our religion teaches us that one must not defile the sanctity of the place?’ ‘Son that is the truth of our religion but we are helpless as we are the prisoners in our own land. We cannot worship, we are bondage of slavery and shame’. ‘Our women folks are not spared. They were physically assaulted and sexually molested. Our women are forced to give birth in the full view of Jawans’. ‘Son, it was the most painful moment for us (women) during our labour period. We need to take proper diet like, chicken soup, warm water, and proper rest. But our women in labour were not allowed to take rest but were forced to shed tears of pains and agonies, the feeling of shame and humiliation throughout their labour time. They gave birth in open space in full view of Jawan. We wept, cried and cursed.’ ‘What a tragedy? We suffered!’ ‘Mother where are our men folks gone that time?’ ‘Son! Some of them were inside the Army camp; they were beaten black and blue. Sometimes they were mercilessly dragged like animals and beaten severely even infront of us. Some of them were in far places carrying ration for the army people.’ ‘Mother we are taught that home is where a heart is; it is a place where we enjoy freedom and peace. So then where is our freedom and peace when we suffer in the hands of soldiers in arms?’ ‘Well son, I am sorry to say but we are caged, like those baby birds which you usually keep in our kitchen garden. They couldn’t fly as you caged them. So we couldn’t enjoy our freedom, peace and justice because we are caged in our own nest unlike your little baby birds, which you brought home from their nest.’ 

‘When an eagle of the air landed and caught a chicken of its choice, eagle do whatever way it likes to do with the prey before the former could consume up the later. Even as the hen is with her chicks when an eagle come and pick its choice, the hen become a helpless creature. ‘Son! Even as we (mothers) shout and appeal to release our loving husbands, sons and brothers from the hand of those cruel soldiers they wouldn’t listen to us. Instead of listening they even abuse us, assault us even the food we prepared for our beloved ones are snatched away when we try to supply them as they were in detention without food for many days. Our hearts cry out. But in vain.’ 

‘Mother, I was so small that time but I could felt the fury of those soldiers from their faces. I heard of our men been given electric shock, buried alive, chilli powder was poured in their genitals and nostrils. Tell me more about them.’ ‘Son, to go with those stories, only tears drop down from my eyes. Our men were let to sit in detention room for months together without giving them proper time for nature call where food was denied, they were beaten beyond any human imagination. We were mocked. The people from other villages in and around villages also suffered. We heard of them too the similar rape, torture, killings stories. We were terrified to hear them. Our whole area/land become the very place for the soldiers to go a spree with their might and guns. Our land become a theatre of torture and terror.’ 

Traditionally, digging grave, burying the death, performing the death ceremony is men’s duty in Naga society. Proper ceremony has to be done before the death could be buried. Even after embracing Christianity burying the death is men’s duty. ‘So mother how deaths were buried and infirmities attended during those nightmarish days? I heard you(mothers) dug grave, wept, cried, buried the death tell me more of it.’ ‘Son! We were detained in the concentration camps and we could attend the infirmities. Medicines were not available. When deaths were reported the soldiers threatened us to bury. Helplessly and forcibly we have to dig graves and bury our loved ones unceremoniously with word of prayer and hope to be together with them someday.’ ‘ Well son, our sick fellow who stayed outside the village were denied basic medicines etc. Communication from outside was cut off completely, no medicines can be brought in and even those who died outside the village that time were not brought to the soil of their birth for their burial. We firmly believe that our bones must be laid down to the soil where out mother gave birth.’ ‘That’s unbearable mother.’ 

Amnesty International record when come to detention as thus, ‘Whole village populations were held in the open or in the churches for up to twelve hours at a tine, day after day over a period of several weeks. Villagers were illegally detained without being told the reasons for their arrest. None were brought before a magistrate within 24 hours of the time of arrest, as Indian law requires. No exceptions were made and pregnant women were also detained.’

People were detained without any substantial reason. People were killed without any reason. People were forced labour. People were kicked, beaten black and blue. It all happened. Where? In prison? No. It happened in their native land, home and Church. The people of the land became the prisoners in their homes. Was there formal declaration of war between India and these people? No. Did Naga women folk commit any crime towards Indian? No. 

‘Mother then why have our people to suffer that way?’ ‘My loving son, your ancestors were a free men once. They want to be free man. But other people don’t want to let your people be free men again. Thus, they use severe military force to crush our people down.’ ‘Well mother, are we criminals of sort that we suffer that way?’ ‘Son we are not criminals for we did no wrong to the Soldiers. Might is power, Gun can silence the very truth; Become the mindset of those who torture us that way. Even though home is where heart and freedom is, we become the prisoners in our own land because of that.’ ‘Son, lest you and your fellow being forget the pains, agonies, torments, horrors and nightmares that our people went through.’   

That day mothers wept at the graves
The church became concentration camps
Men were beaten up and hung down
Two women gave birth to their babies
In the open in front of Jawans
Oh Oinam! What a nightmare

(Lines from a song called ‘Oinam’ by Teka Ao)

The above article is the second part of a series of articles based on Oinam