Analysing The Dimapur Lynching
By Sazzad Hussain
08 March, 2015
Whatever the primordial wild instinct, explained in novels of Conrad and Golding, that the hysteric mob of Dimapur in Nagaland, a northeastern state in India, manifested while dragging out an under trial rape accused from the Central Jail and his lynching on 5th March, our eyes have been wide opened trying to absorb the shock and getting some answers to that horrific act. As the blood and dust settles on the streets of this commercial hub of Nagalad, different twists and turns are now emerging from the incident which was initially considered to be a rape case.
So far the narrative is that the victim, Sayed Sharifuddin Khan, a thirty-five years old trader in Dimapur was accused of rape by a Naga girl. Accordingly Khan was arrested by the police and lodged inside the Central Jail in Dimapur for judicial proceedings. After that the local public and women bodies took out protest marches demanding the authorities to hand over the accused to them. The crowd was led by Naga Students Federation. As the authorities refused to oblige, the swelling crowd moved towards the jail, broke its gate and dragged out the accused, stripped naked and paraded a long stretch of seven kilometres to the city’s centre point while hitting and hacking with sharp weapons. As the victim fell down, he was tied behind a motor cycle and dragged several kilometres in which he succumbed to his injuries. Thereafter, as the Taliban did to President Dr. Nazibullah in Kabul in 1996, the corpse of the accused was hanged on a tower. This modern day lynching was photographed by mobile wielding youth as souvenirs. The entire act was committed in broad day light where the police and the civil administration choose to remain nonchalant. The punch line of the narrative was that the “rapist”, who was also an “illegal Bangladeshi immigrant”, got his punishment in a country where the justice delivery system is very slow.
When the medical examination report of the rape victim came out, it gave a negative answer. There was no trace of rape on her body. Further, the CCTV footage of the hotel where the incident had allegedly happened also send a clear picture—both the girl and the accused were seen in normal stature. Nor Sayed Sharifuddin Khan was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant, his father was a retired IAF personnel from Karimganj, Assam while two of his brothers are still serving in the Indian Army and he was married to a local Naga woman. Then what made the people of Dimapur so impatient to create a kangaroo court and do the lynching ?
The answer is politics—dirty, heinous politics and the long process of collaboration of militants, criminals and anti-social elements with an ethnic tinge that culminated in together to create this savagery. Ever since the all-powerful Chief Minister Neiphu Rio was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014, there has been a power struggle in Kohima. Rio’s successor, T.R. Zelliang has been facing pressure from his fellow NPF party members and had a no-confidence motion in January this year. The politics of clan and ethnicity for dominance is a key element for this dissidence. The dissident group is headed by a leader who is an ethnic Sema. In Dimapur, the only commercial town of Nagaland, the Semas are in the majority. It is learnt that this Sema leader, along with militants, anti-socials and criminals incited the crowd to go wild in order to create a law and order breakdown in the state to bring down Zelliang’s government.
In the ethnically defined Nagaland society, the Semas (now called Sumi) upward social mobility is very poor , though once it had a very good leader Hokishe Sema, four times Chief Minister and Governor of Himachal Pradesh. The Semas were responsible for grabbing thousands of acres of reserved forest land on the non-demarcated Assam-Nagaland border from the 1980s. As they were hill dwellers with no tradition of doing agriculture of the plains, the Semas brought and settled thousands of flood and erosion affected peasants from Morigaon district of Assam, who were Muslims of east-Bengali descent. These hardworking peasants cleared the forests and transformed Nagaland’s agriculture landscape with all types of seasonal products along with animal husbandry. In the course of time there were many matrimonial relationships between these Muslims and Semas and their new generation came to be known as Sumiyan (Sumi+Miyan).
Secondly the big business of Dimapur has been operated by Hindi speaking north Indians and there was no retailers and small vendors from the local tribes. To fill the void, these Muslims and people from Barak Valley of Assam came in large numbers as small traders. From the 1990s the state government erected many commercial complexes and sheds in Dimapur and most of them were leased by the local beneficiaries to these traders from Assam. As Dimapur is the only business centre of Nagalad, there always has been tussle among various militant groups over its control. Many splinter groups and renegade leaders of militant outfits have made things worse for outside traders in the town for quite a long time. The ‘illegal Bnagladeshi immigrant’ tag is one such outlet to maintain that bullying and threatening order in favour of the Sema interests. The bid for supremacy by Semas, in form of militancy, criminal and anti-social thugs and their bonhomie with politicians have led to a situation which has been waiting for a chance and since the ‘rape victim’ was a Sema it got a perfect launch pad. Ironically, the wife of Sayed Sharifuddin Ahmed was a Sema and the ‘rape victim’ was from her same village and lived next door to their rented house in Dimapur in a close family like relation. It was learnt that the Sema girl had a business partnership with Khan and a dispute over some monetary matters led to the framing of the latter as a rapist.
Now Delhi is watching. In the national capital, North Eastern people, including Nagas face a lot of trouble attributed to racism. But what sort of a society does the Dimapur lynching reflect. I think the Naga civil society will give an answer. The insurgency-hit state, which has not witnessed a single exchange of bullets between the NSCN (IM) and the security forces since the 1997 ceasefire, should retrospect and come to terms with the reality. The Church in Nagaland is the unifying factor for all the conflicts. It has been largely responsible for the reduced number of violence among the people in that state. Now the Church can play an important role to reign in the frenzied masses so that lynchings like Dimapur do not get repeated.
(The writer is a freelance writer based in Assam, India. E-mail:email@example.com)
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