Oting, Mon, Nagaland: Sole breadwinners of their families, a newlywed and a son “who was like a crutch” — these were some of the victims of the ambush and the subsequent violence that took place last week in Nagaland’s Mon district.
Six civilians lost their lives Saturday evening, in a botched counter-insurgency operation by Army special forces and Assam Rifles. The security forces personnel ambushed a pickup truck ferrying miners, who had been returning from a day’s work in a coal mine around 4.30 pm.
Hundreds of people from Oting village work in the coal mines in the area for six months a year, for daily wages that vary from Rs 300 to Rs 500.
Following the incident, irate villagers attacked security forces, leading to the deaths of seven more civilians in ‘counter fire’ by the forces. However, as ThePrint reported earlier, the villagers say they were only provoked to attack when security forces shot at them while they were removing the bodies of those who had been killed in the ambush.
ThePrint met the families of 10 of the 13 people, all coal miners, who were killed.
Thakwang Konyak, 27
Thakwang Konyak, 27, and his brother, 24-year-old Sheiwang, were in the pickup truck when the security forces ambushed it. While Thakwang lost his life, Sheiwang was injured and is admitted at Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh.
“We came to know about the incident a few hours later, around 8 pm. We had dinner prepared for them,” said their father, 56-year-old Wanghan Konyak.
The two brothers had dropped out of school early because of the family’s financial condition.
“Thakwang had been working on the mine for three years, both brothers were providing for our family. He was a good person and also worked as a craftsman. He would build houses in the village,” Wanghan added.
Khawang Konyak, 28
Lemei Konyak said she had last spoken to her husband, 28-year-old Khawang Konyak, Thursday.
“He had told me that he would get enough money for Christmas if they could sell the coal which they had collected,” she said.
Then, Saturday night, she came to know about the ambush.
“It had been three-four days since he had been working in the mine. He was planning to go into business and build a small house for the family. There is no one there to take care of the baby now,” said 20-year-old Lemei, sitting in her thatched, bamboo hut, a four-month-old clutching to her chest.
Shomwang Konyak, 33
Chemwang Konyak, 53, a cancer patient, told ThePrint that his son, Shomwang Konyak, was his “crutch”.
“I am sick and paralysed. I am a cancer patient, I depend on my son for everything. I can’t even walk without limping,” he said.
Shomwang, a youth leader in the local church, had been working in the mine since 2018. He would often ferry miners to and from the site in his pickup truck.
It was his truck that was ambushed on the fateful day.
“I want to file cases against all of those who are involved. My only wish is to get back all those who have lost their lives,” Chemwang said.
Langwang and Thapwang Konyak, both 25
Awan Konyak last met her sons — 25-year-old twins Langwang and Thapwang — when they had come to attend a wedding in the village a week before the incident.
Before they left for the mines on 29 November, Awan advised her sons “to be careful wherever they go”.
“The twins were the best sons. They were daily wagers but once a year they would work in the mines. They toiled hard,” the 66-year-old said, adding that she had been looking forward to seeing them Saturday night.
The family had been dependent on the money the twins earned, she said. Now, the family is “helpless without them”.
Yinjong Konyak, 23
Like many close relatives of those who lost their loved ones Saturday, Thaiwang Konyak said his brother Yinjong’s death in the ambush would exacerbate the family’s problems.
“Our father passed away in 2005 and we struggled a lot in our growing up years. We work as daily wage labourers to make ends meet,” he said. “Now that they have killed my brother, we have lost all hope.”
Hokup Konyak, 38
Nine days before the incident, Oting had been a picture of happy exuberance, as everyone had gathered to celebrate Hokup Konyak’s wedding.
Hokup’s mother, Neingam, said that her son had returned to the village a few days before the wedding. “I was very happy that he was marrying a woman church leader,” she said.
Monglong, Hokup’s wife, described their whirlwind romance. A resident of a village in the nearby area of Wakshing, the 35-year-old had come to work in the church in 2014.
Their courtship began a year later. “I liked him for his simplicity. He was a good man who would help out in the church and took on many responsibilities,” she said.
However, it took Monglong some time to convince her parents to allow her to marry a man from a different village. Hokup and Monglong were finally married on 25 November. Tragedy struck days later.
“I tried to call him at night after hearing about the firing, but he didn’t pick up his phone. I finally spoke to him, when he told me he was injured. He told me he didn’t have the strength to carry on and would speak to me later,” she said.
It would be the last time she spoke to her husband.
“We had dreamt of buying a plot, a building. We had funded our own wedding and planned to work and build a family together. I don’t know what I’ll do. I only want him to come back,” Monglong said.
Ngampho Konyak, 32
“He was a very simple, punctual person and used to fund the education of his younger brother and sisters by working in the mine,” said 48 year-old Shongmoi Konyak about her son Ngampho.
The family’s inability to pay his school fees had forced the 32-year-old to drop out early.
Ngampho was one amongst eight siblings, and the sole breadwinner.
His father, Penpho, said the family had last spoken to Ngampho on Saturday night — soon after news of the ambush had spread and the area had descended into chaos. “He told us to avoid the place of unrest if we were out working in the fields,” he said. “We can only grieve now,” Penpho added.
Langtun Konyak, 36
Langtun Konyak, 36, had been among those who had been killed in the violence that followed the ambush. His brother, Tenwang, described him as a “simple man” who had studied up to Class 6.
“He would work as a daily wager, earning Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 a month, and was a youth member of the church,” Tenwang said. Langtun, he said, got married last year and has a two-month-old daughter. “Now, there is no one to take care of her.”
Manpeih Konyak, 26
Manpeih Konyak, 26, had hoped to save up enough money working as a miner to start a small shop.
“He had started working in the mine only from this year. He could study only till class four, because of financial problems. He’s the only boy in the family,” said his mother, Awat.
“We are very upset. We want all those who had been involved in the incident to be identified and brought to justice,” said his father Wangyat.
The other three civilian victims of Saturday’s incidents were 39-year-old Phaokam Konyak from Oting, Pongchi Konyak from the nearby village of Jakphang and Dipol, and Dipol Konyak from Tiru.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)