Hundreds of people marched 70km in northeastern India to demand the repeal of a controversial law giving Indian troops special powers after a fatal accident last month when soldiers killed more than a dozen civilians.
They began their protest in Dimapur, a city in Nagaland state, marched to Kohima, the state capital, and raised slogans against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
The law gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest, and even shoot suspects without fear of prosecution. Human rights groups have long accused security forces of violating the law.
Many of them joined for a stretch along the way, wearing traditional garb and holding banners.
The road from Dimapur to Kohima is winding and arduous, often dusty.
“It was an exhausting march, but I participated because we want to remove the SAF special forces,” Khamba Konyak, 55, said on Tuesday. The Khumba is the Konyak tribe, a Naga tribe whose fourteen young men were murdered in December by the Indian army.
Since the deaths, candlelight vigils and solidarity marches have called for the repeal of the FAB law, which has loomed over the region since 1958 and gives many areas a sense of occupied territory.
“We are members of a helpless audience and we have no other way to raise our voice against the anti-corruption law. We can only contribute with our toil and sweat,” said 35-year-old Moba Cognac.
By law, local authorities need federal approval to prosecute army soldiers or paramilitaries in civilian courts.
Scrutiny of this act has increased in the wake of last month’s deadly attack, with state premier Nebio Rio declaring his government wants to get rid of it.
On December 20, the Nagaland Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding the repeal of the Special Forces Protection Act, but the federal government after 10 days extended the law for six months.
Even as people march in Nagaland, the administration of the SAF special forces was extended for another year on Tuesday in neighboring Manipur state.
“I walked this entire stretch because I worry about our children’s future. The Anti-Corruption and Anti-Corruption Law should be removed,” said 53-year-old Daoyan Lakpan.
Kivithu Kira, one of the organisers, added: “We are Nagas, a warrior race. But today we leave our machetes on the ground and walk in peace to fight our oppressors with nonviolence. How will India respond to our nonviolence? Isn’t the largest democracy in the world ashamed of this brutal law? “