By Isaac Varay:
Oinam Hill village in Manipur is famously known for the infamous ‘Operation Blue Bird’ of 1987. It was a nightmare that occurred in broad daylight. A nightmare that did not occur in dreamland but at Oinamland. The Operation was a hellish experience for the victims, a horrific drama for the eyewitnesses, a melancholic melody for singers, a tragic novel for writers, an elegiac poem for poets, a sad story for the listeners, and shocking news to the world.
July 9, 1987, at noon, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) came to attack the camp of the Assam Rifles located at Oinam Hill village. They surrounded the village, took their position, took the aim, pulled their triggers; the bullets hit the soldiers, the soldiers hit the ground, and then all hell broke loose. Nine soldiers were killed and three were critically injured. Then, the NSCN raided their camp, took their arms and ammunitions, made the villagers, teachers, and students carry the captured weapons, and vanished into the jungle.
One day later, the villagers were summoned, herded to the ground, young and old, big and small, dark and fair, male and female. Then came the ‘question hour’. One day prior, the NSCN fired at the army with guns, and the next, the Assam Rifles fired at villagers.
What can villagers say to the army? For they were communicating in the language of Babel. Neither did the armies understand what the villagers said nor did the villagers understand what the armies said. Then they played a blame-game. Villagers were blamed, becoming scapegoats; retaliation was launched against the village folks and not to the attackers.
“Speak!” Shouted the uniformed man and hit the farmer with the butt of the gun. But the victim only whispered that he didn’t comprehend Babel. Mad with rage, the Assam Rifles kicked the villagers with boots, stubbed out cigarettes on their skin, beat them with sticks and rods, blindfolded them, spat at them, gave them electrical shocked, wet their scarred bodies with blood. Their brownish skins turned black-and-blue.
Indeed, shocking to hear, but it was the ugly truth. The villagers speechlessly and voicelessly bore the brunt of their devilish rage.
The armed forces acted as they like it when they took the life of Oinam’s farmers. Grandparents, women, and children were scorched by the sun and then drenched by rain while their men groaned in pain on the open ground. No water to quench their thirst, no food to satisfy their hunger, no hearts to love them, no words to console them, suffering only in the hands of these devils.
Cattle were scattered, houses were shattered, paddy fields wrecked, churches turned into concentration camps and playgrounds into torture houses. The Assam Rifles searched for weapons in the village, and they took shawls, utensils, chickens, fruits, and vegetables on the pretext of ‘combing operations’.
The armed forces ‘bravely faced’ unarmed farmers; the farmers bravely faced the armed forces. The tallest trees faced the toughest wind, so does the village leader shepherding his people through the toughest of situations.
Today, they become martyrs and we cherish their ideals. We honour those ‘brave hearts’ who died more than three decades ago. Soren. A. Kierkegaard puts it right when he says, “The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyrs dies and his rules begins.” The armies killed only their bodies and not their souls. To this day their noble courage continues to inspire us.
It may be said that the NSCN cadres attacked the army camp, killed nine soldiers and wounded several, raided the camp, made common folk carry the stolen weapons and escaped in to the jungles. Likewise, the Assam Rifles’ counter attack killed 27 patriots and wounded several farmers, and destroyed houses.
Post Operation Bluebird, some farmers were left homeless, some children were left fatherless, and widows were left helpless. Survivors of Operation Bluebird became fewer and fewer with each passing years. Justice never came; the justice enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution made a mere verbal decoration. Justice is only theoretically assured and was never delivered to Oinam Hill village.
The victims have turned to dust, leaving behind widows and children; their roofs lies in rust. Some survivors have aged far beyond their years. The people of neighbouring villages walk erect; in Oinam Hill village they walk stooped, with the support of a staff. Today, they tell the nightmarish tale of the incident. We lend our ears.
A few years ago, a survivor would sit on a Taphu (elevated stones for resting, for informal group discussion and even formal meeting) with a white shawl and a hand-rolled beedi. He was taking a break from work since his strength had been robbed from him. Now, he is gone, while his wife has become a solitary planter in spring, a solitary weeder in summer, and solitary reaper in autumn, surviving by the sweat of her brow. Every passing year, death lay its icy hands on those who survived the attack. We count down the days, for they are numbered now.
To this day, the eyewitnesses testify, narrators narrate, writers write, and singers sing about the story of Operation Bluebird.
I ponder and wonder. The act of terror. The acts of the Assam Rifles were neither an act of bravery nor patriotism, rather an ostentatious demonstration of heartlessness, mindless obedience to an evil authority and an evil law.
What, then, can I say, after listening to the story of the nightmare that occurred in broad daylight? Well, I would say that ‘Operation bluebird’ the day we lost our humanity.