In 1963, 12 men were brutally murdered by a horde of villagers in Chayang Tajo. Years later, the facts around the incident remain hazy. Dodum Yangfo goes back in time and investigates the details of the case, revealing, for the first time, that the genesis of the incident has perhaps more to it than meets the eye. The killings
The phrase ‘Khe-Khe’ in the Nyishi dialect, especially as used in East Kameng district, has several connotations; loosely translated, it means ‘OK’ in English. On the afternoon of 31 May, 1963, ‘Khe-Khe’ took on a sinister meaning – a deadly call to action – in Chayang Tajo and nearby Kilo village, as a massacre ensued as soon as the words were heard.
Fifty-four years after it occurred, the brutal killing of 12 men, nine of them central reserve police personnel, by the villagers of Tajo still sends a chill up one’s spine whenever the incident is narrated by old-timers.
Chayang Tajo, then a small administrative outpost, witnessed a guerilla-style bloodbath on that afternoon. Nine perished, including four civilians: Base Superintendent PG Roy, language interpreter Pada Wahge, ALC Kharananda Jaisi, and peon Hira Bahadur Sonar, and five CRP personnel: Lance Naik Roshan Lal, and sepoys Tara Singh, Joginder Singh, Jog Raj and Baldev Raj Sharma.
The killings did not end there. The villagers with the help some youths of nearby Kilo village killed three more CRP personnel at Pawik stream when the personnel were on their way to Chayang Tajo from Khenewa. The bodies of the three – Dhan Singh, Kali Ram, and Krishnan – were never found. The killers seized their arms and ammunition.
After yearlong legal proceedings, the Additional Political Officer and Session Judge, Kameng Frontier Division, on 12 March, 1964, sentenced to death four of the accused – Sulung Tajo, Hachang Tajo, Rada Tajo, and Tawa Tajo – while seven others were sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment. Two of them – Mara Tajo and Tayeng Tajo – are alive to this day, after serving 14 years in the central jail in Tezpur (Assam). Background
There are many versions of the events that led to the killings. According to the official version, the immediate cause was when the villagers were told to return the 4 Sten guns and 17 .303 rifles, along with a huge cache of ammunition which the Assam Rifles posted at Chayang Tajo left behind after the 1962 Chinese aggression.
The Assam Rifles personnel had been posted there after Chayang Tajo had been established as the headquarters of an administrative circle in the Kameng Frontier Division of NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) in 1961. When the war began, the Assam Rifles personnel who were mobilized to the front left behind the arms and ammunitions. The presence of the unguarded arms infused excitement into the villagers of Tajo as they saw a chance of regaining their past domination. The enthusiasm was such that one of them even went to the extent of killing the Gaon Burah of Raje village over a local dispute.
The Chayang Tajo administrative outpost was re-established in 1963, after the unilateral withdrawal of the Chinese from the NEFA, and a Base Superintendent, a Political Jemadar, a couple of 4th Grade employees, and about half-a-dozen Central Reserve Police sepoys under a Lance Naik were posted there.
This caused distress among the villagers. At first they heard that the administration had returned only to retrieve the arms and ammunition; but when they discovered that the return was of a permanent nature, they thought of doing something immediately that would leave a lasting impact.
The decision to attack the government camp at Chayang Tajo, and to kill all the government representatives, was taken. A plot was chalked out. The D-Day
On 31 May, 1963, at the request of the Base Superintendent, the villagers of Tajo turned up to construct fences around the post to prevent mithuns from entering into base camp. Prior to this, whenever such a request was received, hardly half-a-dozen villagers would come to work. On that fateful day, some 40 villagers turned up to construct the fence.
Apparently, the Base Superintendent did not realize the unusual behaviour of the villagers turning up in such great numbers for work that morning. In his last monthly confidential report, he had made a suggestion that the only way to gain the loyalty and confidence of the villagers was to mingle with them freely and intimately. He might have been convinced that his policy of intimacy with the villagers was working, and he even told the CRP personnel not to worry about their internal security as the villagers were friendly. By this time some of the CRP personnel had taken to joining the villagers in sports activities such as long jump.
On that afternoon, everyone at the post, including the Base Superintendent, was relaxed and absolutely unaware of the impending danger.
The villagers had their own plan, however. Just when it appeared as if all was well, one Hachang Tajo shouted: “Khe!-Khe!” It wasn’t moments before the conspirators started running towards the office, killing everyone in sight, with daos (machete) and spears. All, except a sepoy were murdered during the course of the massacre.
The escaped sepoy, Ajit Singh, reached the Base Superintendent’s office in Khenewa, at 2 AM the next morning, and reported the incident.
Back in Chayang Tajo, after the massacre was over at the government camp, a few of the villagers went to the Pawik stream, in between Chayang Tajo and Kilo village, with the intention of destroying the cane bridge over the stream, to prevent government reinforcement from crossing over.
When they crossed the stream and reached Kilo village, they spotted three CRP sepoys, at a little distance from the village, making their way to Chayang Tajo.
The sepoys, who had been despatched from Khenewa, were unaware of the killings that had occurred at Tajo. The villagers returned to Kilo and requisitioned the services of three others – Koru Kilo, Seme Kilo, and Sono Yangfo. They were informed about the killings at the government camp, and coerced into killing the three sepoys. The trio carried out the killings, and threw the bodies of the sepoys into the stream.
This brought the total count of victims to twelve.
Two days after the incident, the villagers involved in the killings collected at Tajo village and performed Rapke Tame – a ritual performed after a homicide. Two cows were slaughtered and feasted upon. The aftermath
Before a column comprising four platoons of the Assam Rifles, under the command of Major D.K. Kanwarpal and Political Officer T Haralu, along with a few CRP constables left Khenewa on 15 June, 1963, the main approaches to Chayang Tajo were heavily laid with punjis and poisoned-arrow traps, and the bridge over the Kameng River was destroyed.
The column followed a different route, which the rebels did not expect, and arrived at Chayang Tajo on 17 June, 1963, without any opposition. They found the village deserted. The killers and their families had fled to Kilo across the Pra River and cut the cane suspension bridge used to cross it.
The team searched for the dead bodies of the deceased government personnel and recovered nine of them.
Almost a month later, following the intervention of gaon burahs of the nearby villages, the miscreants surrendered before the government on 12 and 13 July, 1963. They also surrendered some of the weapons (daos and spears) used by them in the killing.
All the accused in their examination admitted their guilt and stated that they were not happy with the government for asking that the guns they had taken from the Assam Rifles depot be surrendered. They had been asked by the Base Superintendent to either return the rifles or take an oath (Sedung) that they did not possess any more government rifles. They said they were also apprehensive that the government would take serious action against an influential man of Tajo village for killing the gaon burah of a nearby village. Death of under-trials
All 20 under-trial prisoners were kept under the custody of the Assam Rifles at the quarter guard in Chayang Tajo. On 24 November, 1963, at 6.30 PM, 13 prisoners escaped from the custody of the Assam Rifles. Two of them – Tukbing Tajo and Koru Kilo – were shot dead by the sentry guarding the quarter guard.
Later, by the first week of December 1963, all the prisoners who had escaped from the custody of the Assam Rifles surrendered. It was later established that they had escaped due to fear of being transferred to the jail in ‘rangko’ (the plains). The other take
The 1963 Chayang Tajo incident has many local versions which are mostly inconsistent; however, T Haralu, the then Political Officer, Kameng Frontier Division, Bomdila, probably understood the background of the incident more than any other officer during that time. He was, after all, another Northeastern tribal – a Naga, to be more specific.
According to Haralu, in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the administration in the Nyishi (then erroneously known as Bangni) area failed to gain the trust of the locals because of the administration’s atrocious and indifferent treatment of the locals.
Haralu observed that the abrupt abolition of the slavery system by the administration germinated a feeling of distrust among the locals. The administration failed to understand that slavery here was different from that in the other parts of the world.
Apart from the fear of abolition of slavery without compensation, the irascible execrable behaviour of the Assam Rifles jawans during their withdrawal from the area turned the unpredictable attitude of the Nyishis into real hatred towards the administration.
During their withdrawal from the area, the jawans seduced local girls and took some of them to Lokra, their battalion headquarters in Assam.
When the APO Bameng and the party had left the area, many porters from Myora village carried their loads to Seppa. Hence, when the Assam Rifles party arrived at Myora, the women and children who were left behind fled into the jungle for fear of being forced to carry loads.
Out of frustration and anger, the jawans burnt down the entire village and killed the livestock there. Later, on the same day, one porter from Riang village was shot dead when he stopped to take rest.
Again, when the Assam Rifles party met one of the most influential gaon burah of a village near Bameng, who was accompanied by his daughter-in-law, the jawans raped the woman.
All these led to the weaning away of the loyalty and respect for the administration. To the layman with proper knowledge of the entire sequence of events, the incidents at Chayang Tajo and Kilo, therefore, are not acts of impulsive savagery but a consequence of what had passed earlier. Tracing the story backwards, it does not stop at the massacre, but goes far beyond it. Political Officer T Haralu was the one who read the true genesis of the story. As a tribal, he understood that the people in the hills are slow to anger – but once their anger is triggered, they do not hold back. When one removes the chaff from the grain, this is what is revealed behind the massacre that occurred in the hills that afternoon in 1963.