September 13: The blackest day

Published on September 9, 2005

September 13: The blackest day

By Donn Morgan Kipgen

September 10, 2005: In every armed conflict innocent civilians are always the worst casualties as much as truth and human rights are. Defenseless civilians have to bear the brunt of deadly forces unleashed by armed elements. This is exactly what had happened to innocent Kuki villagers during the bloody Kuki-Naga war (1992-95) which started as a result of the gruesome ethnic cleansing operations carried out by the NSCN (IM) and the Naga Limguard.

Kukis paying homage to Sept. 13, 1993 martyrsOf course, Nagas were also killed by the provisional Kuki militia in retaliatory strikes. From May 1992 to November 1995, more than 575 innocent Kuki civilians were shot or hacked to death by Naga militants in Manipur alone, whereas about 121 Kukis were liquidated in Nagaland, without counting the heads (non pun intended) of missing persons.

Altogether 230 Kuki hamlets and villages were burnt down and scores of Kuki villages were deserted out of sheer terror, taking the number of Kuki refugees to over 50,000. It was during this period that compassion, honor, human rights and the teachings of Christianity took the backstage and the finer points of psycho-terror and unbridled brutalities ruled the roast.  Unfortunately, the details of these tales of death and destruction were eagerly followed with much  relish by some sections of the society. Never had a human life been so cheap and so inconsequential as it was then.

One of the saddest facts was that most of the victims who had already been unlucky in life could not be given proper burial ceremonies. Amidst those sordid tales of horror and gory incidents there stood out one most gruesome massacre which makes the other bloody incidents like a ‘Humpty Dumpty’ story.
On 13th Sept, 1993, in one of the worst genocides in the history of modern India, 88 innocent Kukis, including one woman, of Joupi Village (Tamenglong dist) were butchered or hacked to death at a spot not far from Tamei police station by the NSCN (IM) backed Naga Limguardsmen. To say that these 88 people were killed would be an understatement. Not even a single victim was lucky enough to be shot dead; all and every one of them had their throats cut, tribal execution style. To add to that most despicable act of madness and primeval savagery, another 20 innocent Kukis were also exterminated in separate ‘incidents’ on that most tragically fateful day of September 13, 1993, – 13 villagers from Gelnel (Senapati district), 4 from Santing (Senapati district) and 3 from Nungthut (Tamenglong district), pushing the day’s heads’ count to 108 victims.

The sheer magnitude of these well-planned and methodic savageries shocked the whole country and the news hit news agencies and other wire-services all around the world. The BBC World reported them as ‘ethnic cleansing by Naga separatists’, the CNN called the Joupi Massacre as ‘genocide’ and the other world media called it as ‘bloody ethnic cleansing’. That particular day, i.e. 13th September, 1993, will be live in infamy forever, as much as the 9/11 shall be.

In all fitness of things, the 13th September is observed as a ‘Black Day’ by the Kukis in remembrance of those 700 most unfortunate victims who had no business to die at all in the first place. The Black Day is not about angry protest; it is all about honoring the memory of those innocent Kukis who had perished so cruelly. Not to honor and remember those due to reconciliatory politics would be a great injustice.

The cold-blooded massacre of 88 villagers of Joupi and Zanglenphai deserves to be told. It was a tale of horror, deception and sheer hatred. Joupi village had around 70 houses whereas the neighboring Zanglenphai had 18 houses and had shared one Kuki Baptist Convention church in Joupi. On the 5th September, 1993, 40 armed NSCN (IM) cadres, including 7 females, swooped down upon Joupi village.

They herded all the men folk into the village community hall and detained the women and children inside the church (how many times do we hear about SF personnel desecrating the sanctity of the church? It should also be noted that 5 Haipi villagers were shot death inside the church during the New Year’s night service on 1/1/95 by Naga militants). After locking up all the Joupi villagers, the NSCN (IM) cadres went on rampage, entering each and every house and destroying all boxes, almirahs, and tools like knives, machetes, swords, spades, axes, etc… Thereafter, they slaughtered livestock like pigs, chicken and merrily feasted till late evening.

As they left Joupi just before night, the Naga militants forcibly took along the village chief Lenkhopai Haokip ‘to drop them off’ as a dutiful host, only to bury him dead along Barak riverbank about 2 km away from the village. Five days later, on September 10, the NSCN (IM) served a ‘quit notice’ to Joupi-Zanglenphai villagers ordering them to leave/vacate on or before September 15. As a matter of necessity, one Semkholam Hangshing was elected as an acting-chief and they held a fare-well feast and paid homage to the departed soul of their deceased chief on September 11. The next morning they held their last communion and prayer service in the church.

Thereafter, under the supervision of their new chief, all men, women and children of Joupi-Zanglenphai villages tearfully left their earthly homes en mass on the September 12, taking among their modest belongings, livestock and other necessary items. It must have been a very moving scene. These hapless villagers wearily trudged along thinking they were already out of harm’s way; little did they know that they, especially the men folk, had an appointment with destiny not so far ahead. Unbeknownst to them, their fate had already been decided. The weary villagers managed to reach Bolkot area, about 28 km from Joupi and about 2 km from Tamei, by late afternoon.

The horror story started there and then, the September 15 ‘deadline’ was not to be honored by the NSCN (IM) and the Naga Limguardsmen. There at Bolkot, all the men were separated from women and all their belongings and properties were ransacked, looted or destroyed. The inhuman torturing started amidst the wailing and crying. Realizing their intention, the younger brother of the deceased chief shouted, ‘Let’s all run! It’s every man for himself!’ However new chief of Joupi shot down that proposal, saying that if the men folk ran away then all women and infant would be butchered as a punishment and that it was the duty of the headman and village elders to die first if needed. All the villagers were marched into Tamei just before nightfall and closed the gate. The Naga militants hid the women and infants in a secluded area while all the men had their hands tied behind their backs.

According to eyewitnesses account and 5 survivors, they were marched towards the outskirts of Tamei, actually a stone’s throw away from Tamei Police station, and the hacking of necks started from the night itself. As a true Christian, the Naga militants asked them to say their last prayers. Butchering of fellow human beings is actually not a regular part of Christian tradition, less so against fellow Christians. Those of Kuki villagers who lagged behind were duly ‘welcomed’ on September 13 and were given the same treatment-all the men folk were beheaded. In all 87 innocent Joupi-Zanglenphai villagers were mercilessly laid low without any fault of their own. One housewife was among the victims because she stoutly refused to leave behind her husband and son- what a dedication!

As in all massacres, there were 5 known survivors. One Haosem Doungel was hacked at the back of the neck and thrown into a river; he survived. Three others managed to escape with serious injuries. One Kuki policeman posted at the Tamei police station had to be hidden by his colleagues by locking him inside a cell for his safety in case the Naga militants came in for ‘inspection’. Most of the 700 plus innocent Kuki villagers who perished during that ethnic cleansing were murdered in the same manner. It is most unfortunate that most of these victim’s families have never been given ex-gratia payment by the Govt. It is a shame that so far no one has ever been charged or indicted by the not-so-long arm of the law.

Instead of booking the person for crime against humanity, the NSCN (IM) is now being dated and pampered by the Govt of India. If Slobodon Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovon Karadzic could be booked for crime against humanity, why not the persons responsible for the Kuki massacre? Are not the Kukis human being? But then, it is not the Govt, the police or the Court who can give real justice, it is only the Almighty God who can give real and fitting justice in every sense of the word. And it is not for us mere mortal beings to judge the wrong doings of other persons; it is the divine duty of the God to pass the judgment over the crimes of this great magnitude in his soul of these unfortunate victims rest in peace.