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Aizawl Assault

Gaddafi in Mizoram


SHELL SHOCK: A former MNF rebel shows a shell he recovered from Hnahlan, one of the villages that was bombed.

Long before Muammar Gaddafi bombed his own people, IAF fighters in March 1966 strafed and dropped incendiary bombs on Aizawl, now Mizoram's capital, to crush the Mizo insurgency. The bombing, which marked the beginning of horrific atrocities committed by Indian armed forces, was never reported in the media and isn't acknowledged by New Delhi. But the wounds still fester and Mizos are now demanding an apology.

New Delhi's first reaction to insurgency breaking out in Mizoram on the night of February 28, 1966, was stupefying. Even as the Mizo National Front (MNF) rebels started attacking Army and para-military posts all over the Lushai Hills, which was then a district in Assam and is now the state of Mizoram, Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters were despatched to bomb civilian areas in Aizawl (the then district headquarters) and nine other major villages. On March 5 and 6, 1966, hundreds of incendiary bombs reduced houses, schools, markets, churches and even hospitals to ashes. Miraculously, just 15 people died in Aizawl, but that was because most of the 10, 000-odd residents of the hill town had fled when fighting between the rebels and Indian security forces broke out. The IAF fighters - Toofanis and Hunters - flew low over Aizawl and strafed many areas before bombing and devastating the town. The bombings continued with a greater vengeance the next day.

Forty-five years hasn't been long enough to dim the memories of those who witnessed the nation deploying fighter aircraft against its own people. "We were numbed with shock. Even in our wildest dreams we couldn't imagine that fighter aircraft would be sent to bomb Aizawl. It was a scary sight, those planes buzzing overhead and dropping bombs that would explode in huge balls of fire and devastate every cluster of houses," recalls Zosiami, who was 21 then. Zosiami left her house in Aizawl's Khaatla area with her parents, four siblings and grandparents once the Mizo rebels launched their attacks, witnessed the bombings from a forest in the nearby Lawipu hill where many had taken shelter. "We returned on March 11 to find our house and all those in our locality totally gutted," she told TOI-Crest.

"Being a Mizo was a crime in those days. We were all suspects," says JV Hluna, who teaches history at Aizawl's Pachhunga University College and has extensively researched and documented the bombings. Hluna was a high school student in Aizawl in 1966. "On the night of February 28, MNF rebels attacked the district treasury at Aizawl and camps of police and security forces at Lunglei and Champai. These two places were captured by the MNF. The rebels ambushed the Assam Rifles (a para-military force commanded by Indian Army officers) battalion headquarters at Aizawl and an Assam Rifles patrol was ambushed at Chanmari area (of Aizawl) on the night of March 3 where five jawans were killed. And then the bombings started on March 5 and 6. We fled Aizawl on March 4 and took shelter at Zokhawsang village five kilometres away. I saw the fighter planes flying in at about 10 am on March 5 and bombing Aizawl. The fighters made about eight sorties that day and many more the next day. 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."

Many government installations, including the Circuit House, were destroyed in the attack. Apart from Aizawl, IAF fighters bombed Khawzawl on March 6, Hnahlan the next day, Sangau on March 8, Tlabung on March 9, Pukpui village on March 13, Bunghmun on March 23, Mualthuam and Tuipui (the native village of Laldenga) on September 6 and Hmuntlang village on January 31, 1967.
New Delhi flatly denied the bombings. "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, " Denghnuna, who was the government's information and public relations officer at Aizawl then, says. But word of this 'war crime' did leak out and was raised in the Assam Assembly. The Assam government deputed two MLAs, Stanley DD Nichols Roy and Hoover H Hynniewta, both from Assam's then Khasi Hills district, and Lok Sabha MP from Shillong GG Swell on a fact-finding mission to Aizawl on March 30. "This team collected a lot of evidence about the bombings and their report is part of Assam Assembly proceedings. Swell, responding to (Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi's statement that only rations were airdropped for besieged Assam Rifles soldiers in Aizawl, produced shell casings in the Lok Sabha, " says Hluna. He claims that Rajesh Pilot and Suresh Kalmadi were among the IAF pilots who dropped the bombs, a claim endorsed by Denghnuna, who was nominated to the IAS and retired as a senior bureaucrat.

Apart from innumerable witness accounts of the bombings and reports submitted by the Assam Assembly team, a large body of evidence of the bombings also exists. Many families have preserved the brass and copper shell casings they recovered after their return to Aizawl.

Many wonder why New Delhi responded so harshly to the 'Mizo uprising'. "After Lunglei and Champai fell to the MNF and the Assam Rifles camp in Aizawl was attacked, the government must have panicked and wanted to nip the insurgency in the bud by deploying the Air Force. It must have wanted to inflict exemplary punishment, " says Hluna. "New Delhi had little knowledge, or sympathy, for the North East and as home minister Gulzarilal Nanda had said, India wanted to 'crush' the Mizos. Hence excessive force was applied and the civilian population punished, " says Denghnuna, who also fled Aizawl on March 4 and witnessed the bombings. He returned on March 8 to find his house, located near the Assam Rifles camp, intact but its walls pockmarked by bullets.

R Zamawia, who joined the MNF while in college in 1963 and was the commander of the MNF Volunteer Force in March 1966, says the bombings were followed by large-scale entry of Indian troops into the Lushai Hills. "They ordered evacuation of hundreds of villages which they burnt down. The villagers were resettled in new areas. Thousands were arrested arbitrarily and unspeakable atrocities were committed by them, " says Zamawia, who rose to become the 'defence minister' of the MNF. C Zama, who has penned 14 books on the Mizo insurgency, including one on the bombing of Aizawl, says the demand for an apology from New Delhi for the bombings is gaining ground in Mizoram. "I saw the bombings since I was in the 'Mizo National Army' (the MNF's fighting force) and was fighting in Aizawl. No such thing has happened anywhere in the country," he says.

"The wounds suffered by the Mizos are yet to heal. They're festering even though Mizoram is the most peaceful state in the North East today. The government of India has done nothing for the emotional rehabilitation of the Mizos. This bothers me a lot. The process of reconciliation has to start with an acknowledgement of the atrocities that were committed, " says Denghnuna. Hluna points out that while PM Manmohan Singh has apologised for Operation Bluestar, that magnanimity has been lacking when it comes to the Mizos.

Since 2007, March 5 is observed as 'Zoram ni' (or Zoram Day) by the powerful Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a civil society group. Prayers are held all over the state and the people are urged to forgive the perpetrators of the crimes committed on them during the two decades of Mizo insurgency from 1966. The Mizos are willing to forgive, but India has to ask for it first.

Aterrible famine in the Mizo Hills was the immediate trigger for the insurgency that wracked Mizo Hills for two decades. In 1959, bamboo started flowering in Mizoram (it does so every 40 to 50 years). The flowers draw rodents, who feed on it and multiply in huge numbers. The rats then started feeding on standing crops, causing acute food shortages and a famine. The Assam government's handling of the famine (called 'Mautam' in Mizo) and providing relief was extremely poor and hundreds died of starvation. The Mizo Cultural Society, formed with Pu Laldenga as its secretary in 1955, converted itself into 'Mautam Front' to provide relief to the starving rural population in March 1960 and renamed itself Mizo National Famine Front in September that year. A year later, it became the MNF when, capitalising on the immense goodwill it had earned for its relief works, it started taking up political issues like integrating Mizo-inhabited areas of Manipur, Tripura and the Cachar Hills of Assam contiguous with the Mizo Hills into one administrative unit. A series of ill-advised moves, like making Assamese the official language in the Mizo Hills and the Assam government's consistent refusal to grant more autonomy to the Mizo Hills Autonomous District Council or grant statehood to the Mizo Hills district led to the outbreak of insurgency. Laldenga established contact with East Pakistan sometime in 1961 and was promised material and moral support. The MNF started raising the Mizo National Army (MNA) and sending recruits to East Pakistan for training. When the MNA's strength rose to eight battalions, a secret plan codemaned 'Operation Jericho' was launched to take control of the Mizo Hills. The plan involved surprise attacks on treasuries, fuel stations, communications facilities, neutralising the police force, taking all senior non-Mizo government officials captive and overpowering camps and bases of Indian security forces all over the Mizo Hills. After gaining control, the flag of independent Mizoram was to be raised in Aizawl on March 1 and if the flag could be kept flying for 48 hours, Pakistan and other countries would grant diplomatic recognition to Mizoram and get the UN to grant recognition to the new country. The plan was put into operation from the night of February 28, 1966 and many important places in the Mizo Hills fell to the rebels. Aizawl was also nearly captured by the rebels, but the 1st Assam Rifles battalion held out and foiled the MNF's plans.

Pu Zoramthanga, a close lieutenant of MNF founder Pu Laldenga and the latter's successor as president of the MNF, feels the bombing of Aizawl and other places in the Mizo Hills was nothing compared to the sufferings inflicted on Mizos by Indian security forces from 1966 to 1986. "Villages were burnt and their residents shifted to colonies guarded by Indian forces along the highways. Hundreds of women were raped, more than 2, 000 Mizos were killed arbitrarily, properties were looted and the entire community reduced to the stature of slaves, " says Zoramthanga, who was chief minister of Mizoram for two terms from 1998.
Zoramthanga says the MNF was forced to launch preemptive attacks on security forces' camps in the Mizo Hills in March 1966 after the Assam government went back on a 1965 verbal agreement between Laldenga, Assam CM BP Chaliha and Union home minister Gulzarilal Nanda. "We were promised that no more troops would be sent to the Mizo Hills and that we too shouldn't indulge in violence. We kept our side of the agreement, but the government started moving in troops in early 1966. Pu Laldenga and the entire MNF leadership would have been arrested and in order to preempt that, we attacked the security forces. But the Indian government's response was shocking and shameful. Bombing the civilian populace and committing so many unspeakable crimes showed what little regard India had for Mizo lives and honour, " he says.

Zoramthanga says that the two decades of insurgency had left ordinary Mizos, who suffered terribly at the hands of Indian security forces, yearning for peace. "Prominent NGOs, the Church and many others appealed to us to sit for peace talks and end insurgency. We honoured their sentiments and settled for peace. We haven't achieved our goal, but then compromises for the greater good and welfare of the people need to be made, " he says in reaction to criticism that the 1986 Mizo peace accord amounted to an abject surrender.

R Zamawia, who was the Mizo National Army's chief and the MNF 'defence minister' from 1965 to 1971, terms the accord a sellout. "The accord only upgraded Mizoram's status from a Union territory to a full state. Other points (in the accord) were minor and not worth the sacrifices of so many nationalist fighters, " he says. "In 1947, the Mizos were given the option of joining the Indian Union or becoming a British dominion. Mizo Union, the only political party of the Mizo Hills, took the first option with the precondition that Mizo entry into the Indian Union would be reviewed after 10 years and Mizos would then have the freedom to opt out if they weren't satisfied with their experience of being part of India. But India never allowed Mizos to review the merger."

Reader's opinion (27)

Munthang KhaiminlienJun 14th, 2011 at 14:47 PM

For everything ... a TIME. The frustration act by the GOI has passed, we the Mizos are the victim for so long. Its a TIME the Central Government should immediately apologize before its too late

Gaurav PrateekMay 31st, 2011 at 17:48 PM

On behalf of the rest of the country, I apologise to my Mizo Sisters and Brothers, and hope they will forgive us for our sins.

Ravi AroraApr 25th, 2011 at 11:34 AM

This is the most unfortunate incident and people should take this as reminder for what Gandhiji taught us. And our government is doing opposite of all that economically and elsewhere. As a citizen of this nation, I think I should apologize.

Sudheer MApr 23rd, 2011 at 07:39 AM

When speaking to my friends overseas recently I proudly claimed, unlike many countries (Israel using F16s on Palestenians), India never used air force against civilian population and that it is crime on humanity to do that. What a myth I lived in. Thank you TOI for daring to write articles like this

Suryakant SharmaApr 22nd, 2011 at 23:29 PM

This article provides a good insight into the Mizo revolution but care should be taken to take it in good light and it should not ignite any more tensions..

Raman TirkeyApr 22nd, 2011 at 20:25 PM

Great courage shown by the Journalist who brought the true picture.
I condemn Those perpetrators for inhuman violence & atrocities done to our brothers & sisters.

Lalthanzami CenhrangApr 21st, 2011 at 17:23 PM

central government should be apologize to the Mizo people.

Lalramliana ChawngteApr 21st, 2011 at 07:48 AM

Its sad that the the sufferings of the Mizos went unnoticed for so long.Let this report be eye-opener in our quest for peaceful coexistence and the need to accelerate development in Mizoram.

Lalramliana ChawngteApr 20th, 2011 at 15:11 PM

Bravo,Mr.Mazumdar for having brought to light the atrocities committed by the Indian security forces upon the Mizos in the mid 60's.Yes,the GOI must apologise to the Mizos for its intentional blunder!

Gaurang Apr 19th, 2011 at 21:40 PM

IN THE LIGHT OF NEUTRALITY, its utmost shame and comparable to any stATE-SPONSORED CRIME ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD (yougoslavia in 1990's, chechenya, east timor et al).
by the very least govt. should tender unconditional apology and should seek a holistic re-evaluation to its shambolic N-E policies.

Sunil SApr 19th, 2011 at 20:44 PM

India is the lagest true democracy in the world; every citizen has the fundamental right to vote. Elections in India are acknowledged to be free and fair. The government can be replaced through no-confidence motion and fresh election. Armed attacks against the government have no place in India.

Sudharshan VenkateshApr 19th, 2011 at 19:44 PM

As an Indian, i feel I should apologize. Such cruelty is usually at the root of many long standing wars (israel-Palestine) across the world. By not getting violent, the Mizos have proved they are better than the average Indian

Guru MohapatraApr 19th, 2011 at 17:25 PM

Thou it is shameful that the govt resorted to bombing,it is a fact of life that in war innocent lives are always lost,would the mizo militants deny killing thousands of innocent people and army men!!!An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind!!!

Vivek MalikApr 19th, 2011 at 14:47 PM

wher was this courage in 1962?? frustration dare i say?

Nikhil MehraApr 19th, 2011 at 12:17 PM

It clearly indicates the inhumane behavior and an act of vengeance . It's very important to maintain law and order and every step has to be taken to end insurgency but it's also very important to pay heed to the reasons for such insurgency and rebellion behavior and it's expected of GOI

Laldinmawia HlondoApr 18th, 2011 at 20:29 PM

Centre should apologise to Mizos.

Laldinmawia HlondoApr 18th, 2011 at 20:29 PM

Centre should apologise to Mizos.

Lalrinchhana TochhawngApr 18th, 2011 at 19:31 PM

Dear Nikhil Khandelwal - How can there be development and prosperity when there is hurt? I do think you have emotions and sentiments too. And I am not too sure why this subject should be against constructivity!!??

Aas DassApr 18th, 2011 at 11:44 AM

the article is eye opening.its unthinkable that it could happen today without knowledge of outside world.

Lalrinchhana TochhawngApr 17th, 2011 at 02:16 AM

The man holding the shells in the picture is Dr. J.V. Hluna, the man you talked to and interviewed, Mr. Mazumdar!! And the Mizo Zirlai Pawl(Mizo Students' Organisation)is the biggest student body in Mizoram, more precisely

Lalrinchhana TochhawngApr 17th, 2011 at 02:12 AM

This I believe is one of the first comprehensive coverage or review of what happened in Mizoram in 1966, much appreciation. There is still a deep strain within the community still and the ones who saw it often recall this incident with horror-hope an apology is forthcoming soon too.

Rini TochhawngApr 16th, 2011 at 22:01 PM

It has taken 45 years for the national media to finally come out with the story of Mizoram's sufferings in 1966. It happened before our time but addressing the issue,however late,i think is the answer to let the Mizo people know that they truly belong to India.

Neha PatelApr 16th, 2011 at 19:22 PM

Shame on India and Indira Gandhi, we should apologise..

Nikhil KhandelwalApr 16th, 2011 at 11:47 AM

I dont understand why is this talked now when everything is going well, would it not create negative sentiment? i dont understand why we keep on talking on things which has nothing to do with selfdevelopment and prosperity.
we have to be constructive.

Neha PatelApr 24th, 2011 at 23:39 PM

Khandelwal ,try and think if you or one of your families had to face what the mizos did , would you forget..Its easy for people like you who have nothing to do with Mizoram to say forget everything, forget justice, forget even acknowledging that there were wrongs done,pretend nothing ever happened

Lyan SamteApr 16th, 2011 at 11:42 AM

I don't think india have the courage and capacity to deal with a pandora box like the north-east esp when it is ignored by the mainland media. It is too busy dealing with it's favourite problem child and the mainland's media darling i.e. Kashmir.

Himanshu BondsApr 16th, 2011 at 11:24 AM

I feel very sorry for innocent people of mizoram and so should be the goi. On the other hand any govt. would be forced to take harsh step on insurgent's plans of carving out a new nation. The goi should be more careful towards needs and demands of its people otherwise naxalism and insurgency would be mord rampant.

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