Ratnadip ChoudhuryAt a time when the villages on the Assam-Meghalaya border are witnessing a rise in insurgency, people from 83 villages in the Garo Hills, inhabited mostly by the Garos, took an oath on 16 May to fight insurgency.
“We want to put a stop to insurgency, which brings nothing but misery. We have already suffered a lot and the bitter experience is still alive in our minds. It is resurging after 16 years and we cannot allow it to destroy our future,” said locals Benedict Areng and Xavier Sangma at Kinangaon, a nondescript village near lower Assam’s Boko town.
The Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), which is fighting for a separate Garoland in Meghalaya, the Rabha Viper Army, a rebel group of the Rabha tribe and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) have been abducting people and extorting money. A section of the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), has been violating ground rules of ceasefire in the area.
“We know the rebels would not be happy but whatever we are doing, it is to ensure better education, healthcare, food security, and to increase our earnings. Hence, we will not allow the rebels to recruit anyone from our villages, provide shelter to them or agree to their extortion demands. Else the villagers will seek the help the law,” Areng added.
“Nobody, not even the poor, are spared,” Xavier alleged, “and that’s why we have decided to fight back. We have only one weapon that is our will power and the rebels will have to step back. This area is underdeveloped has thus has turned into a breeding ground for insurgency.”
It is becoming a huge challenge for the Garos to keep up with growing extortion demands of the rebel outfits of both Assam and Meghalaya. “When a person cannot sustain his family, how will he pay the extortion money? They blame the Assam government for the rise in insurgent activities along the border. Here, students stop going to schools after class 8 as there are no high schools,” Mintu Sangma, a local said.
For 84 Garo hamlets in the area, there are only two provincial high schools—Gohalkona High School and Hahim High School—and students have to undertake a 20 km trudge every day. Ten out of 14 sanctioned posts are lying vacant in Gohalkona High School.
However, this fight against the rebels in the area is not new. In 1996, the villagers of Kinangaon had reportedly captured a group of militants and handed them over to the police.
This time as well, the villagers are sure the rebels will retaliate but they are resolute that they will drive the insurgents away.
With inputs from Kishore Talukdar in Boko.