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Rarest of the Rare


The family of a victim forgives six killers in Nagaland, but about the law?
S. DAIHO MAO | Issue Dated: June 1, 2008
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Rarest of the Rare If convicted, they could have faced the noose or perhaps life imprisonment. But six people accused of murdering an innocent office peon and father of four escaped punishment in Nagaland recently after being forgiven by the victim’s family in what can truly be called a rarest of the rare case.

As for what brought about the forgiveness, it was an act of kindness by the family Khoni Chang, said a release. “We, the children and family members of Late N. Khoni Chang (Atangba Chang) on this day, the May 10, 2008, do hereby declare our forgiveness to the murderers in true Christian principle and spirit. We do pray that God grant them wisdom and peace of mind in the days to come,” said Chang’s four sons and brother in their declaration. The forgiveness, which came from the family of the deceased was based on their being “good Christians”, said a declaration.

Legal experts have meanwhile challenged the development. “There can be no forgiveness in the law. If you commit a crime, you pay the consequences,” says R.P. Sharma, senior advocate of the Gauhati High Court, which has a bench in Kohima. As for traditional laws “there is no space for such provisions in the Indian Penal Code or the Criminal Procedure Code”, says Sharma.

The police in Nagaland, though, have a different view altogether. “Under Article 371(A) of the Constitution,” says Bendang Toshi, the state’s inspector general of police (crime), “Nagas are allowed to settle cases under customary laws. This holds true even if the case has been registered and it involves a crime such as murder.” Nagas have a tradition of settling any cases of disputes, crimes and other offences through their age traditional court as per their old customary practices. Although offences or criminal cases initially were undertaken by the law enforcing agency, most of the cases were settled through the customary court under their age old traditional practice. Chang, an office peon working in the Chief Engineer PHED office, Kohima was abducted by miscreants from his residence on June 15, 2006 and later found murdered on the outskirts of Kohima.

On the day of the declared forgiveness, brought about through a “conciliation committee”, two apex tribal bodies—the culprits Eastern Naga Peoples Organisation (ENPO) and the Angami Public Organisation—which conducted the reconciliation programme met to put to rest the case as per the Naga customary practices. Among the various decisions taken at the meeting between the families of the deceased and the accused, was a pact that the family of the victim would not now take revenge against the accused. This followed prayer meeting and apologies tendered by the accused, who initially had to confess to the crime they had committed. The declaration includes a point that says that they were responsible for the murder.

So what happens to the country's laws? For now, in this case, the customary laws of Nagaland prevail.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017