In a blatant defiance of the country’s justice system and the rule of law, a 5000-strong mob stormed the central jail in Nagaland’s commercial hub, Dimapur, on 05 March, dragged a rape accused out, paraded him through the streets after stripping him naked, and then watched him succumb to a fatal assault by the frenzied men. Not satisfied with his death, the attackers hanged the body on the clock tower in the middle of the dusty, garbage-filled town, with many clicking photographs of the macabre scene on their mobile phones. For a long time, one had heard of the murderous ISIS carrying out such merciless assaults or the Taliban meting out instant justice.
The charge against Syed Farid Khan alias Sarifuddin (27), who hailed from Bosla village, under Badarpur police station in southern Assam’s Karimganj district, was that he had raped a 20-year old Naga girl at a hotel in Dimapur on 23 February. Following a complaint, the police arrested Farid, who ran a small automobile shop in the town, the next day. A local court forwarded him to judicial custody. It was from the supposedly high-security Dimapur Central Jail, where the accused was lodged, that the mob extricated him after breaking open two of the prison gates. The jail security remained a mute witness to the rampage. Farid’s family have since claimed he was innocent and that the alleged ‘victim’, the 20-year-old girl who was known to the family, was blackmailing him with a demand of Rs 200,000.
The entire episode has once again exposed the poor governance and extremely poor law and order situation in Nagaland. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has called for a report and the Nagaland Government has instituted a probe, but the investigations must go beyond where the police or the local Dimapur district administration had erred. It is a fact that tension had been mounting since 24 February, the day Farid was arrested on the basis of the rape charge. Despite this, no additional precautionary measure was taken by the administration or the jail authorities to boost security around the prison complex. A local student group had even held a rally on the morning of the jail break-in to seek justice following the alleged rape. Even this did not move or shake the Dimapur administration. It is fine that the moribund Nagaland government, currently facing a political tug of war for chief ministership, has since placed the Dimapur Deputy Commissioner, the Superintendent of Police and the jailor on suspension, but the probe needs to examine whether more serious factors were behind the jail break by the mob and whether a section of the jail staff, as suspected, are hand-in-glove with the protestors.
One must factor in the fact that Dimapur is virtually Nagaland’s crime capital. Various factions of the rebel NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and other Naga insurgent groups raise ‘annual tax’ from traders and businessmen who operate in Dimapur. This is an open secret. Nagaland’s new Governor, PB Acharya, told this writer in the last fortnight, although in a different context, that the daily turnover in Dimapur is to the tune of Rs 500 crore. One must also note that the headquarters of the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN or the NSCN-IM, called Camp Hebron, is on the outskirts of Dimapur. The NSCN-IM’s writ runs large in Dimapur. It is another matter that the rebel group has not been able to clinch an agreement with New Delhi after 18 years of the so-called ‘peace negotiations’.
The NSCN-IM may not have triggered the mob upsurge that led to the jail break-in but its influence in the area may be the prime reason for the emergence of other rag-tag outfits around Dimapur. A couple of months ago, a new group called ‘Survival Nagaland’ has come up. Largely comprising Sema Nagas, the group has been going around preparing lists of people from outside Nagaland working or carrying out business in Dimapur. According to officials in the Union Home Ministry, which is aware of the development, members of the group have been issuing ‘residence certificates’ to such people for a fee. The MHA has since provided the Nagaland Government with the details of this group called ‘Survival Nagaland’ as well as the names of around four of its key leaders. It is important to crackdown on such loose groups because they help spread and channelise xenophobia in volatile areas like Dimapur.
The Centre’s inability to clinch an acceptable Naga peace agreement even after engaging in talks with the NSCN-IM for 18 years has added to the deteriorating situation in Nagaland. Therefore, it is heartening to find Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for fixing a time frame by which to end peace talks with all insurgent groups, and to not engage in such talks with new groups or factions. Rampant corruption is another major reason for lawlessness and lack of public order in Nagaland, particularly in Dimapur. As Nagaland Governor Acharya said during the conversation with this writer, “There is king size corruption in the Northeast.” Unless measures are initiated to tackle all these issues holistically, the problems in Nagaland, too, would turn king size, so much so that it may veer out of control.
Already, groups and individuals in Assam are engaged in protests and blocking roads leading to Nagaland. With tension along the Assam-Nagaland border over disputed territory becoming a constant phenomenon, the situation needs a holistic management. Another dimension to the ‘insider-outsider’ issue in Nagaland is the general perception that all Bengali-speaking Muslims are illegal ‘Bangladeshi’ migrants. Even Farid, who was lynched, was dubbed a ‘Bangladeshi’, which is far from the truth. His father had served in the Indian Army and currently, two of his brothers are with the Army. The question is simple: the Nagas must realise that Nagaland is a part of India and just as the Nagas are free to move about or work in any part of India, those from outside Nagaland, too, are free to do the same in Nagaland. Moreover, Nagaland has the Inner Liner Permit system that requires a non-Naga to obtain such a document to enter the state. That itself is a provision to restrict the entry of non-Nagas to Nagaland. Of course, Dimapur is outside the purview of the ILP and, if necessary, the Nagas may persuade their Government to extend it to Dimapur as well to check the entry of new people in search of work. The Centre must examine all these aspects to restore a semblance of order in a chaotic and virtually unadministered town like Dimapur.