Over two weeks after fleeing from their village for fear of reprisal, following the ambush on the Indian Army that killed at least 18 Indian soldiers and injured 15, life has come to a standstill for the villagers of Paraolon, Challong and Kotal Khunthak. These quaint villages are located near the ambush site on the Tengnoupal-New Samtal Road in Manipur’s Chandel district, barely five hours’ walk from the India-Myanmar border.
Even though they have returned to their homes and the army reprisal they feared has not happened, two weeks of untended shifting cultivation fields on the steep hill slopes have ruined their crops. While the post-ambush imposition of ‘dusk to dawn’ curfew by the army has not hindered their agricultural activities, the onslaught of monsoon has made matters worse. Now, the villagers are staring at the real possibility of crop failure.
James Dilbung, chief of Paraolon, said things will never be the same again. “We had to flee soon after the ambush. This happened at a time when our shifting fields needed daily attention. Because of our absence, the seeds we sowed were all destroyed and we are now left with only barren fields. Although the rain is here, it is of little use.”
While villagers appreciate the civil administration for arranging transportation for their return from Chandel district headquarter and distributing food grains on the day of their return on June 18, laud 6th Dogra Regiment for organising a free medical camp, a growing chasm separates the people and the security personnel.
A sense of mutual suspicion has crept in. Unlike the past, when patrolling soldiers would stop by chat with the people, casual interaction has now ceased. This uneasiness is made worse by the presence of the two charred army trucks, which were blown in an IED explosion.
As long as the two trucks remain in our village, we are reminded of the horrific incident. Soldiers who now frequent our village see the charred trucks and become furious. That’s why we have requested the CO of 6th Dogra Regiment to remove them.
— Jimme Leivon, a Paraolon youth
The ambush, carried out by a team of armed insurgents belonging to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland(Khaplang), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, and Kangleipak Communist Party), with base camps in Myanmar, came at a time when the northeast has seen an upscale in violence.
There were reports of at least three encounters following the NSCN(K)’s unilateral abrogation of the ceasefire agreement with the Centre and its successful campaign to establish a united front of northeast insurgents for “liberation” of “suppressed indigenous nations of Western South East Asia.”
The army fought back by conducting cross-border surgical strikes on June 9, hitting at least two rebel camps, one each across the Manipur and Nagaland borders. But it hyped media propaganda, making un-corroborated claims of inflicting casualties and showing off its military capability of hot pursuit, which exposed its misplaced policy in addressing the insurgency problem.
While the army’s action post June 4 maybe a strategically correct operation, its associated publicity indicated confusion among the authorities in tackling the insurgency problem. This could potentially alienate the region if it continues to project the northeast insurgents as enemies and not as Indian citizens.
(The writer is an Imphal-based journalist and a documentary film maker)