Friday, October 16, 2009

Insurgency in Mizoram: An Army officer’s reminiscences

(reproduced in Lalkhama, 2006. A Mizo Civil Servant’s Random Reflections. Ghazaibad: Express Print House, pp.177-180).

Darzo (Mizoram) was one of the richest villages I have ever seen in this part of the world. There were ample stores of paddy, fowl and pigs. The villagers appeared well-fed and well-clad and most of them had some money in cash. We arrived in the village about ten in the morning. My orders were to get the villagers to collect whatever moveable property they could, and to set their own village on fire at seven in the evening. I also had orders to burn all the paddy and other grain that could not be carried away by the villagers to the new centre so as to keep food out of reach of the insurgents…. I somehow couldn’t do it. I called the Village Council President and told him that in three hours his men could hide all the excess paddy and other food grains in the caves and return for it after a few days under army escort. They concealed everything most efficiently.

Night fell, and I had to persuade the villagers to come out and set fire to their homes. Nobody came out. Then I had to order my soldiers to enter every house and force the people out. Every man, woman and child who could walk came out with as much of his or her belongings and food as they could. But they wouldn’t set fire to their homes. Ultimately, I lit a torch myself and set fire to one of the houses. I knew I was carrying out orders, and would hate to do such a thing if I had my way. My soldiers also started torching other buildings, and the whole place was soon ablaze. There was absolute confusion everywhere. Women were wailing and shouting and cursing. Children were frightened and cried. Young boys and girls held hands and looked at their burning village with a stupefied expression on their faces. But the grown men were silent; not a whimper or a whisper from them. Pigs were running about, mithuns were bellowing, dogs were barking, and fowls setting up a racket with their fluttering and cracking. One little girl ran into her burning house and soon darted out holding a kitten in her hands. When it was time for the world to sleep, we marched out of Darzo – soldiers in front, with the Mizos following, and the rear brought up by more soldiers…

We walked fifteen miles through the night along the jungle and the morning saw us in Hnahthial. I tell you, I hated myself that night. I had done the job of an executioner. The night when I saw children as young as three years carrying huge loads on their heads for fifteen miles with very few stops for rest, their noses running, their little feet faltering..for the first time in my life as a solider I did not feel the burden of the fifty pound haversack on my own back. But there was something more to be carried out. I called the Darzo Village Council President and his village elders and ordered them to sign a document saying that they had voluntarily asked to be resettled in Hnahthial PPV (Protected and Progressive Village) under the protection of the Security Forces as they were being harassed by the insurgents, and because their own village did not have communications, educational, medical and other facilities. Another document stated that they had burnt down their own village, and that no force or coercion was used by the Security Forces. They refused to sign. So I sent them out and after an hour called them in again, this time one man at a time. On my table was a loaded revolver, and in the corner stood two NCOs with loaded sten-guns. This frightened them, and one by one they signed both the documents.