AP PHOTOS: Hundreds protest controversial India move

KOHEMA, India — Hundreds of people walked more than 40 miles in northeastern India on Tuesday to demand the repeal of a controversial bill giving the Indian army special powers after a soldier killed more than a dozen civilians last month fatal event.

They started protesting in the Nagaland city of Dimapur before walking 43 miles to the state capital Kohima, chanting slogans against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Many joined along the route, wearing traditional clothing and holding placards.

The road from Dimapur to Kohima is winding and often dusty.

“It was tiring to walk, but I went because we wanted to get rid of AFSPA,” said Khambba Konyak, 55, of the Konyak, a Naga tribe whose 14 youths were killed by Indian troops in December.

The bill gives the military broad powers to search, arrest and even shoot suspects without fear of prosecution. Nagas and human rights groups have long accused security forces of abusing the law.

Since the death, candlelight vigils and solidarity marches have called for the repeal of the bill, which has loomed over the region since 1958, giving many the feeling of occupied territory.

“We are part of a helpless public and we have no other way to raise our voices against AFSPA. We can only contribute with our hard work and sweat,” said Mopa Konyak, 35.

Under the act, local authorities need federal approval to prosecute military or paramilitary soldiers in civilian court.

Scrutiny of the bill has increased following last month’s deadly attack, with the state’s Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio announcing his government wants to repeal the bill.

On December 20, the Nagaland Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to repeal AFSPA, but the federal government extended the bill for six months after 10 days.

Even as people in Nagaland marched, the AFSPA was extended by a year in neighboring Manipur on Tuesday.

“I went this way because I was worried about the future of our children. AFSPA has to be removed,” said Dauyan Lakban, 53.

Kevitho Kera, one of the organizers, added: “We are the Nagas, a race of warriors. But today we leave the machetes on the ground, walk peacefully, and fight our oppressors non-violently. How will India respond to us? of nonviolence? Isn’t the world’s largest democracy ashamed of this draconian law?”