On May 2, the peace in serene historic town of Tawang was shattered by the police bullets as they fired at protesters who had gathered outside the Police Station demanding the release of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, General Secretary of the Save Mon Region Federation, spearheading the anti hydro power movement in Mon Region, from custody. Two precious lives were lost; Nyima Wangda, a 17 year old novice monk from Tawang Monastery and Tsering Tempa, a 33 year old newly married. Tempa from Jangda village was shot point blank on the head.
26 others including police personnel were injured.
There are different versions to the event but most agree that police used excessive violence.
State Police Chief N. Payeng defended the police action saying that police resorted to firing after they were attacked by the protesters, many of them Buddhist Monks and Nuns as they seized the police station to secure the release of the Lama.
However, eye witnesses say that police opened indiscriminate firing, without warning as some of the protestors had entered the police station to take the detained Lama out after he was denied bail by the Chief Judicial magistrate.
The Army had to be called in to control escalation of violence and curfew imposed in the entire township.
The Lama was arrested on April 26 on charges for “deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage the religious feelings” for questioning the nationality of Guru Tulku Rinpoche, the well respected Abbot of Tawang Monastery. The Abbot has since resigned.
Lama’s lawyer had filed the bail application but the magistrate refused to grant bail on the grounds that the report of the Investigating Officer was inconclusive, blissfully unaware of the situation that was soon to unfold.
On the day of the incident, the judge reserved the judgement on the release of the Lama for May 4. When the news of continued detention of the Lama reached his supporters, they are alleged to have stormed the police station.
Lama Lobsang Gyatso, who was released from the custody, after the violent confrontation, based on a verbal communication from the Court, said police had used unnecessary force.
Tension was brewing in Tawang almost a week before the violence broke out.
On April 26, Lama Lobsang Gyatso was first arrested for leading a group of people from Gongkhar village where the 6 MW Mukto Shakangchu project is coming up. The villagers had opposed the reconstruction of spillway of the small project as they say that work quality has been compromised. He was arrested based on FIR filed by the Personnel security officer of local MLA Pema Khandu for disruption of peace. He was later let out on bail.
However, on April 28, Lobsang Gyatso was rearrested for his comments against Guru Rinpoche, following an FIR filed by local Panchayat leaders.
The arrests of Lama Lobsang as well as subsequent police brutality is not lost on those keeping a tab on recent National Green Tribunal ruling against hydro power development in Tawang, shaking up the political establishment, keen on hydro power projects.
Tawang, the epitome of peace, serenity and the land of monks and nuns will never be the same again. The scar of May 2 will remain itched in the memories of the people of the region as well as the state for a long time. At the police station, there are remainders of violence as the police personnel go about their job quietly. Broken window panes have been left unrepaired, few broken bottles and stones littered are testimony to the violence of the day.
Even as the state government paid ex gratia to 13 people amounting to Rs seventy Lakhs, those affected by violence have demanded that there be impartial inquiry as well as punishment to perpetrators of violence.
They echo the demand of the Amnesty International which has said that State govt must conduct a prompt, impartial and independent criminal investigation.
What led the police to resort to such indiscriminate firing? And why did it take almost three weeks to officially record that two people died at the hands of the police. Perhaps the magisterial inquiry that is currently undergoing will reveal some facts. But the whole truth will perhaps never be known and it remains to be seen whether those responsible for taking two precious lives will ever be punished. As Tawang gathers the shattered pieces, several questions remain unanswered.
(Maybe a good idea to put in a box since this information is important and linked with the event)
(In April this year, the National Green Tribunal had suspended the environmental clearance of the Noida based Bhilwara group’s 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu project in response to an appeal filed by the Save Mon Region Federation. The Tribunal had asked for a fresh impact assessment studies, public hearing and appraisal by the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley & Hydroelectric projects, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
NGT while suspending the clearance of the Union Environment Ministry had noted that Ministry didn’t consider the impact of the hydro project on the habitat of the Black-Necked Crane. The birth place of Sixth Dalai Lama, Tawang, bordering China, is also the winter home to Black Neck Crane, evaluated as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of threatened species and listed in India’s Wildlife Act as a Schedule 1 species)