Mizoram was beyond the reach of Indian Civilization till it was annexed to British India in 1895. Even on the eve of Indian Independence, the people had a strong apprehension of assimilation and exploitation by the majority communities.
The MNF declared independence for Mizoram from the Indian Union on the 1st of March, 1966 with a declaration signed by Laldenga and sixty others. The Nationalist attacked their targets which are important security and government posts all over the district. In retaliation, the Indira Gandhi Government sent troops to control the situation.
On March 5th, while the 57 Mountain Brigade dispatched from Tripura were about to enter the capital Aizawl the Indian Air Force (IAF) Jet Fighters were dispatched to bomb civilian areas in Aizawl. The IAF jet fighters, Toofanis and Hunters- flew low over Aizawl, and since there was no resistance from the ground, the fighters mercilessly strafed the areas as they came and dropped the bomb as they flew away. The fighters made about 8 sorties on the first day and it continued with greater vengeance the next day.
Our family was among those who fled from Aizawl on March 4 to Zokhawsang village which is five kilometers away from Aizawl. I saw the fighter planes plying at about 10 am on March 5th and bombed Aizawl. From Zokhawsang, we heard huge explosions and saw huge plumes of smoke rising. We knew that Aizawl was being destroyed. The feeling was terrible and we were paralysed by fear and shock. Miraculously, only 13 people died in Aizawl, but that was because most of the ten thousand residents of the hill town had fled when fighting between the MNF and Indian security forces broke out. But hundreds of incendiary bombs reduced houses, schools, churches and even hospitals to ashes.
Apart from Aizawl, IAF fighters bombed Khawzawl on March 6, Hnahlan the next day, March 7, Sangau on March 8, Tlabung on March 9, Pukpui on March 13, Bunghmun on March 23rd, Mualthuam and Pukpui which is the native village of Laldenga, the President of the MNF, on September 6th, and Hmuntlang village on January 31st, 1967. Though the bombing was obvious, the Indira Gandhi government as well as the Assam B.P. Chaliha’s Government surprisingly denied it. Nichols Roy, the Opposition leader of Assam Legislative Assembly raised a question in the Assembly whether the rumour of bombing in Aizawl was true or not. Chaliha, the then Chief Minister of Assam denied it, and said that the planes were deployed to drop ration supplies.
This was a hotly debated issue at the Assam Assembly. The Two MLAs, Stanley D.D.Nichols Roy and H.H. Hynniewta, and one Member of Parliament, G. G. Swell and one officer from Shillong were then commissioned by the Assam Government to investigate what had happened.
The team arrived on 31st March, 1966 and submitted their report to the Government of India. The team collected fragments of the bombs and used cartridge, and one of such was a 75 pounder cartridge, and took photographs as evidence of the bombing. Nicholas Roy then addressed the speaker and said, I quote,
“We know, Sir, that the aircrafts used were fighter aircrafts. Certain objects which were dropped from these aircrafts have exploded, have destroyed, have done damage to the lives and property of people who are loyal to this nation. Sir, this very use of Air Force, we believe, for taking Aijal was excessive.” End quote. As one Mizo officer remarked, all news of the bombing was blacked out; that is why, the rest of the country and the world never got to know of the atrocities. The Mizos who travelled to Silchar and Shillong from Aizawl, who had seen what happened, were dumbfounded when they heard the newspaper reports and wondered if those dropped by the Air Force were supplies. They sent the unexploded bombs they had found to Mr. G. G. Swell, M.P to Delhi, to ask the Prime Minister with a note, “How do you cook this ration? If these are supplies, please tell us how to cook these things?” This is the spirit of bitterness that had entered into the people of Mizo District.
Heavy forces may be employed against foreign aggression in defence of the country, but towards its own citizens, the Manual of Indian Military law provides that minimum force should be used when putting down disturbances, riots and rebellions in the country. In contrast, Armed Forces Special Power Act 1958 and Defence of India Rules 1962 were enforced. In the mean time, the Government of India also proclaimed the same declaration under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution. Under these Acts, 50,000 village people from 106 villages were forcibly incarcerated into 17 grouping centers and many more were regrouped by force in other centers to facilitate effective military operations against the underground elements. The Indian army raped our women and girls, and tortured and imprisoned many more in various jails in India including Tihar Jail without trials. Many households were pillaged and burnt.
The MNF on the other hand demanded food and shelters from the civilians through forces and threats, and they used extortions to build themselves weighty to carry on their movement. They also ordered all the government servants to resign from their services. They punished and even killed those civilians who disobeyed their orders.
Under the heavy black cloud of such belligerence from both war parties, there was no such thing as peace, education, economic development, and mutual entrustment between neighbors. Every day life went on full of doubt and fear. The situation became a big concern for leaders of the different church denominations and they decided to call for an urgent meeting to discuss efforts to end the war. Some of them even volunteered themselves to be peace delegates. They approached leaders of underground MNF who were inside Mizoram and also made contact with the MNF President, Laldenga, who was exiled to London. They also made peace talk with officials of Government of India and the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. All these efforts finally made it possible for signing of Peace Accord in June 30, 1986, formally ending the war.
In Clause 13 of the Peace Accord, there is a scheme for payment of ex-gratia grant to heirs/dependents of persons who were victims in various ways – crop damage, building destroyed/village burnt, raping and pillaging, killing and imprisonment, etc. during the war. As of now, only a few selected people received the ex-gratia payment, but many more of them still do not claim it. A detail revision of enquiry is needed so that all the victims get the ex-gratia.
In India, every religion, be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. enjoys the same level of freedom. We will never allow the bigger community to look down on the smaller community.
We extremely condemn usage of heavy forces and fighters against domestic disturbances. We always prefer talk negotiation than war. Our main goal is everyone’s development.
By Prof. J.V Hluna