Time heals all wounds. But not this one. Not yet.
It is true that some wound refuse to heal even after eternity. The bombing of Aizawl – the first air raid by the Indian Air Force on civilian territory within the country in 1966 is one such wound which is still fresh even after fifty years.
The story began in 1961, when the Mizo Hills were a part of the state of Assam. The Mizo National Front was formed on October 28 that year, and asserted its right to self-determination. The group initially adopted a non-violent approach to secure its political objective. However, following intense internal pressure after human rights violations by security forces in the area, the Mizo National Front took up arms.
On February 28, 1966, the fighting volunteers of the Mizo National Front launched Operation Jericho to throw out Indian forces stationed in Mizoram – launching simultaneous attacks on Assam Rifles garrisons in Aizawl and Lunglei. The next day, the Mizo National Front declared independence from India.
The central government led by Indira Gandhi may have been taken by surprise, but the reprisal was swift. On March 5, four fighter jets of the Indian Air Force – French-built Dassault Ouragan fighters (nicknamed Toofanis), and British Hunters – were deployed to bomb Aizawl. Taking off from Tezpur, Kumbigram and Jorhat in Assam, the planes first used machine guns to fire at the town. They returned the next day to drop incendiary bombs. The rebels were forced to retreat into the jungles of Myanmar and Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan.
The bombing caused colossal destruction with some reports saying Aizawl town had caught fire. Fortunately, only 13 civilians were killed. The establishment – including the government and the armed forces – kept mum or even flatly denied that Aizawl had been bombed. Details only emerged decades later when several writers and former insurgents emerged with their accounts of the day the people in Aizwal saw planes shoot fire.
The bombing may have managed to crush the Mizo uprising but it also helped usher in two more decades of insurgency. Was that the only option available to the Union government at the time? Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was then quoted by a newspaper that the fighter jets had been sent in to airdrop men and supplies, not bombs. But the question was, why would anyone deploy fighter jets to drop rations? The answer is still awaited.