Nagaland Killings: ‘Direct Marise…they shot right at us’

This article was an exclusive newsbreak, with survivors of the 2021 Nagaland security ambush speaking on record for the first time. The story was originally published in The Indian Express in December 2021. Full article here.
On December 5, 2021, six civilians were killed in firing by security forces in “a case of mistaken identity” on their way home from a hard day’s work in Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district. Two survivors of the ambush spoke to us from their ICU beds.

“DIRECT marise… they shot right at us,” says 23-year-old Sheiwang softly, one of the only two survivors of the Army ambush on a group of eight miners in Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district on Saturday evening. With bullet injuries on his elbow and chest, he battles for life in the Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) in Dibrugarh, three days after he was shot at in an operation by the Indian Army.

A few beds away is 30-year-old Yeihwang, who was also in the group of eight. Though conscious, he can barely speak. Yeihwang took a bullet near his ear.

On Tuesday evening, The Indian Express met them at the hospital, shortly before Yeihwang was to be taken for a surgery.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah in a statement in Rajya Sabha Monday said the vehicle “was signalled to stop” and was fired upon after it “tried to flee.” However, Sheiwang says: “We were not signalled to stop. They killed us directly. We were not trying to flee…we were just in the vehicle.”

Following the killing, violence broke out in Mon in which eight more civilians were killed in firing by security forces. One jawan was killed and several security personnel were injured. The 13 civilians were buried yesterday amid a wave of anger and grief that has swept Nagaland.

Recounting the incident, Sheiwang says that after finishing work at the coal mine last Saturday, eight of them were returning home in a pick-up truck.

“Suddenly, on the way, we were fired upon. I do not remember how long it lasted, but it was for a while. It sounded like bombs were exploding. It was not even dark, they still shot us,” he says.

As soon as the firing started, he recalls, the entire group ducked. “We all fell to the floor of the vehicle,” he says.

“After that (the firing) I was taken into another vehicle,” he says, adding that he “was aware of the others’ deaths, including his brother’s”.

When asked if they were carrying anything, he said they had “nothing in their hands.”

“I worked in the mine for one week… we left on Saturday around 3 pm,” he says. The mine is in Tiru valley, about 6 km from the Oting village.

There are two routes to the mine — a longer, winding, route and a short cut through a temporary road built by the villagers a few years ago. The miners had taken the short cut.

When contacted, AMCH Superintendent Prasanta Dihingia told The Indian Express the two were currently under treatment.

“Surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic teams are tracking them constantly,” he said. He said Yeihwang had received injuries in his scalp and eye and would have to undergo surgery. “The other (Sheiwang) has got hurt on his chest and elbow,” he said.

Dihingia said they were dropped to AMCH after midnight on Sunday (December 5). “They were first admitted in Sonari Civil Hospital and later referred here. When they came, we did not know how they got hurt or who they were, but for us they were injured, so we started treatment immediately,” he said.

Dihingia said a team of Assam police was providing security to the two. “Apart from that, the district administration and police officials of Mon have visited them,” he said. On Tuesday night, sources at the hospital said that a team from Nagaland police also arrived to give them security.

Nyemkhah, a relative of Sheiwang, who is his attendant in the hospital, said Sheiwang and Yeihwang recounted the incident to him in greater detail. “On their way back, they had crossed the Tiru bridge, after which the vehicle descended towards a drain (a large depression in the road). It is here that the vehicle, while moving, was suddenly fired upon. The bullets came from the front as well from the back and continued for about 2-3 minutes,” he said.

Nyemkhah said, Sheiwang saw the bodies being “dragged out of the pick-up truck and dumped” on the road. “He (Sheiwang) remembers seeing his brother, Thakwang, being dragged like that. He does not remember what happened after that,” said Nyemkhah.

A doctor at AMCH, who did not want to be named, said the two were “left” at hospital early Sunday morning. “No one knew who they were, where they came from,” he said. Another doctor said that there was a rumour/ suspicion that they could be “insurgents”.

However, as news emerged about the killings, the hospital staff decided to upload their pictures on social media. “That is how they established touch with the village. Otherwise, no one would have known who they were,” said Nyemkhah, who arrived from the village on Monday morning.