Gaddafi in Mizoram

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.
mnfForty-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 Khatla 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.