Late in the evening on 21 January 2009, a rifleman of the Assam Rifles shot dead a colleague after an argument. When surrounded by five other colleagues, he killed all of them and escaped. Various newspapers and other media have reported it as a simple case of fragging. However, closer examination shows that there could be something more to this incident.
The rifleman’s name is T.S. Tangkhul. Those interested in India’s North-East will know that the Tangkhuls are a Naga tribe living in the Ukhrul district of Manipur. Some Tangkhuls are also found across the border in the Somra Tangkhul hills in Myanmar. The Naga struggle for a Greater Nagaland started right after independence and though a ceasefire has been in place for many years, the Nagas have not given up their demand for incorporating Naga dominated areas of other North-Eastern states into Nagaland. One of the areas sought to be added to Nagaland is the Ukhrul district of Manipur. The fragging incident mentioned above took place at a checkpost on a road at Awang Kasom Khullen in Manipur’s Ukhrul district. News reports also say that the soldier T.S. Tangkhul is a native of the area where the shooting happened.
The Tangkhuls have a community website.
On 22 January 2009, a totally different incident was reported on this website:
“Imphal, January 22 2009: OPENING OF a camp of the NSCN (IM) at Siroy in Ukhrul and reported eruption of tension between the outfit and Assam Rifles in the last few days has clearly show that the cease fire extend in the state of Manipur even as GOI has said withdrawn the word "without territorial limit" from the ceasefire pact, said a statement of the United Committee Manipur today.”
On 23 January 2009 it was reported that:
“The NSCN (Isak-Muivah) militants holed up at Siroy in Manipur’s Ukhrul district are “preparing” to vacate the camp after the Assam Rifles gave them 72 hours to return to their designated camps. Troops of the 17 Assam Rifles, who cordoned off the makeshift camp on January 18, are preparing to withdraw as soon as the NSCN (I-M) cadres leave.”
Naga militants have been fighting among themselves for many years and continue to do so despite a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. The ceasefire is without territorial limits. Of late, Naga militants have started to provide sanctuary to other militants such as the ULFA and ANLA (Adivasi National Liberation Army) and DHD(J) (Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel Garlossa faction) in their camps. The Indian government has been furious but helpless since its ceasefire agreement with both the main Naga militant groups is without territorial limits and extends outside Nagaland.
The Isak-Muivah faction is one of the most prominent of the Naga militants. Apparently they set up a camp in Manipur’s Ukhrul district and the Assam Rifles asked them to vacate their camp. Is it possible that Rifleman Tangkhul was aggrieved by this decision and the shooting of six colleagues was more an act of revenge than a mere stress related incident? The Tankhul website says as much. It reported on 23 January 2009 that “‘Community sense’ could have led the Naga jawan to pick up the gun and kill six of his colleagues.”
The Assam Rifles are an elite force composed primarily of local recruits and claim to be a ‘Friends of Hill People’ and ‘Sentinels of North East’. It has been in existence since 1835 and has served the nation so well, especially during the 1962 war with China. However, in light of this incident, the authorities ought to re-examine the policy of deploying the Assam Rifles in the North-East. Wouldn’t it be better if soldiers or paramilitary forces from outside the North-East are posted in troubled spots such in Manipur and other parts of the North-East?