Guwahati: For 22-year-old Ramwang Wangsu and 28-year-old Nokphua Wangpan, residents of Chasa village in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap district, an innocent fishing expedition to a nearby river Friday, turned into a horror they hadn’t foreseen.
“We had gone close to the river. There were seven of us in all, and three had gone ahead. We were walking back when they started shooting at us from behind,” claimed Wangsu, referring to an alleged firing at them by army personnel.
He was talking to ThePrint from the Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh, where he and Wangpan are currently undergoing treatment. While Wangsu said he sustained injuries to his hand and back, Wangpan was allegedly shot in the leg.
Wangsu added: “We screamed, saying we are public (civilans), but they didn’t stop firing even then.”
Friday’s alleged firing by army personnel, “injuring the two civilians, comes less than a year after six civilians were killed in a botched security operation in Nagaland’s Mon village in December last year.
ThePrint reached PRO Defence Tezpur, Lt Col Harsh Wardhan Pande, on phone, who said Wangsu and Wangpan were “out of danger’ as of Saturday. He, however, declined comment on the alleged shooting.
“I’m a daily wager. Now my leg is injured badly. I don’t know what I’ll do now,” said a worried Wangpan.
The 12 Para Special Forces — the unit whose officers were allegedly involved in the firing — have also reportedly assured a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each and jobs to Wangsu and Wangpan, though the unit has issued no official statement yet.
The incident came a day after the Centre decided to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from parts of the Northeast — parts of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. The Act gives special powers to the armed forces in certain “disturbed areas” of the country.
AFSPA was, however, extended in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh including Tirap, Changland and Longding Friday.
The alleged firing
The alleged incident took place about two-three kilometres away from Chasa, between Hualam and Khuwatong villages, around 6.30 pm Friday.
Wangsu, Wangpan, and the two others from the village who had accompanied them on the fishing expedition, claimed they were forced to take shelter inside a drain when the firing persisted.
According to Wangpan, the army personnel stopped firing after they screamed “public” multiple times, to indicate they were civilians.
“Villagers from Khoathang village also arrived on the spot when they heard the firing. They cried and questioned the army personnel about who they had shot,” he said, and added that he had spotted around seven-eight army officers there.
A video that has gone viral on social media, shows a person dressed as a commando, who identifies himself as Major James of the Army’s 12th Para Special Forces, at the spot.
“If you need me to admit in a written statement that we have made a mistake, then I am also willing to do that.. The police are coming and if you want to lodge an FIR I will sign it, as an officer I will take full responsibility because this incident has happened under my command,” the person is heard saying. He adds that the firing took place because of “mistaken identity”.
An FIR has been filed by residents of Chasa village at the Khonsa police station at the district headquarters.
Hangjong, Wangpan’s 23-year-old brother, described the incident as a “grave injustice”. “If something happens to my brother what will happen to us, we are orphans,” he asked and alleged, “Indian Army was made to protect the public, not shoot them. And this is not a one-off incident either.”
Two suspected insurgents of the NSCN-IM were allegedly killed and another person (a civilian), reportedly injured in an alleged army operation, 30 km away from Khonsa on 21 March.
A day later, the NSCN had claimed that of the two people killed, one was a civilian.
Last year, in a similar incident, which had sent shockwaves across the country, six civilians were shot dead in Nagaland’s Mon district in an army ambush, which the army later claimed to have been a case of “mistaken identity”. An alleged mob attack on the forces later at night, resulted in the killing of one soldier and at least seven other civilians in “counter fire” by security personnel. One civilian also died during a protest against the incident.
“Sometimes the militants come and stay there (in our houses) and if we try to go away they think that we are going to complain (to police). Then when the army comes and opens fire, we become sandwiched between the two,” Lemkai Wangpan, a student leader from Chasa, told ThePrint.
He further alleged: “The parliament should review AFSPA and amend it to decrease its misuse. The increasing number of civilian casualties shows the army’s callousness towards civilian lives because of their immunity from judicial proceedings.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)