Saturday, June 15, 2024
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Comfortable with violence!

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By Albert Thyrniang

Chief Minister, Dr Mukul Sangma announced that he would meet all the MLAs from Garo Hills on 29th of August to solicit their views on the deplorable law and order condition in Garo Hills and to seek their suggestions for improvement of the same. One had hoped that the meeting would be a positive step towards restoring some semblance of normalcy in the violence ravaged region. Alas, it never happened! Clearly the Chief Minister had/has more urgent preoccupations than the violence in Garo Hills. The Garo Hills situation which has reached alarming proportion has taken a back seat. Clearly the Chief Minister and the public representatives were uncomfortable with possible change of leadership but they seem to be quite comfortable with violence in Garo Hills.

The meeting of the 60 MLAs was to precede an all party meeting to further work on the views and suggestions of the respected legislators and possibly find ways and means to reinstate law and order in Garo Hills. But the all party conclave too was not held and is unlikely to take place. Opposition parties have not strongly demanded for holding of an all party meeting to discuss the Garo Hills situation. There is no urgency shown to arrest the worsening law and order here. All politicians seem to be comfortable with the unabated terror activities in the five districts of the state as there seems to be a conspiracy of silence.

For over four years now militants and criminals have turned Garo Hills into a lawless, chaotic, an anarchic land. The hills of rare and rich flora and fauna have virtually become headquarters of numerous self-styled militia groups. Daring cases of kidnappings, outrageous killings, broad day light looting and open extortion have become daily stories in the media. Threats, intimidations and harassment to instil fear in people’s mind have been relentless. Allegations of fake encounters and cases of lynching add to the lawlessness. Amid this depressing reality our Public Representatives have largely remained indifferent, cold and unconcerned. They have displayed total apathy. Few have even expressed concern at the gloomy situation in Garo Hills. We have heard no suggestions and solutions from our elected representatives. Never mind the bloodshed and atrocities. Never mind if Garo Hills is unsafe. Never mind if Garo Hills is in flames. Never mind if Garo Hills is burning. Our representatives have been mere spectators!

The anticipated meeting of all MLAs from Garo Hills would have provided a platform to prove critics wrong. But that golden opportunity too was denied to them. That forum for the legislators to speak their minds on the sorry state of affairs in their homeland is forfeited. The meeting was cancelled. It is unclear whether the proposed All Party assembly will take place at all. Now that the Chief has followed AICC General Secretary in-charge of Meghalaya, Luizinho Faleiro to Delhi, the turmoil in Garo Hills will be left unattended.

The preoccupation of the Chief Minister that led to cancellation/postponement of the twin meetings is the Congress dissidents’ demand for change of leadership. The rebels met Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in Delhi to impress upon them to meet their demand. The presence of the heavy weights, former Chief Ministers, SC Marak and DD Lapang, lend credibility to the rebel camp. Irrespective of Sonia Gandhi’s ruling the dissidents have fair points.

Among others, they point to the deteriorating law and order situation in Garo Hills. During the Chief Minster’s tenure Garo Hills has gone from bad to worse. Therefore, change of leadership seems natural. A strong allegation against the Chief Minister is that he is a one-man show and is unapproachable. He takes decisions on his own. The reluctance to hold an all party meeting, is perhaps, related to his autocratic style of functioning. Another casue of discontentment among Congress and non-Congress MLAs alike is ‘Mukul ‘hijacking’ development schemes to his home constituency, Ampati. This is an open secret that led PA Sangma to call his long political rival ‘The Chief Minister’ of Ampati. Be sure, many find echoes in the MP’s observation. Even the public can see that Ampati is the only happening constituency in the state.

The Chief Minister may not take this dissent kindly. He may now be disinclined to call for a meeting of Garo Hills MLAs and an all party meeting. But if he survives the leadership tussle the Chief Minister would be advised to keep the dissidence issue aside and show statesmanship by calling for the aforementioned meetings for the sake of Garo Hills. He has, more than once, spoken of the collective responsibility to restore peace in Garo Hills. That responsibility is first and foremost that of the Government’s and the legislature. Therefore, the overdue all-party meeting should be held at the earliest else our elected representatives will continue to be seen as indifferent spectators to the grim reality that should baffle them no end.

Citizens’ groups, civil societies, Churches and church bodies, NGOs, pressure and interest groups have, from time to time, been formed calling and praying for peace. Notably are the United Christian Peace Forum (UCPF) and the Unified Peace Movement for Garo Hills (UPMGH). Initially the two umbrella organizations showed signs of promise but have not succeeded in their endeavour. Their efforts to permanently restore normalcy in Garo Hills by bringing misguided youth back to the mainstream have not shown results. Could we say that that they are beginning to go into oblivion?

Now a larger conglomerate christened ‘Shalom Meghalaya’ has emerged. Will Shalom Meghalaya render the previous groups irrelevant? Will Shalom Meghalaya replace UCPF and UPMGH? It may be observed that the same Churches that constitute UCPF are in ‘Shalom Meghalaya’. Additionally the NGOs and individuals that form UPMGH are also part of ‘Shalom Meghalaya’. Hope it is not old wine in new wine skin! However, in all fairness it may be noted that all groups and organizations are in ‘Shalom Meghalaya’ except politicians. Perhaps they were not invited to be part of it.

The Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ signifies peace, completeness, well-being and prosperity. ‘Shalom Meghalaya’ has drawn up ambitious awareness programmes for peace lasting almost six months. The biblical based organization has planned candle lit processions, motor rallies across Garo Hills, Special and Chain prayers, signature campaign, radio and television broadcasts, pamphlet distribution, peace programmes in schools, memorandum, etc. Those events organised so far have evoked massive response. Will the latest initiatives end militancy and violence in Garo Hills? They might create awareness in the short term but to end militancy, long term and concrete steps have to be carefully thought through.

A clergyman and teacher from the region who received the State Award on Teachers’ Day this year rightly pointed out that militancy is the outcome of the growing frustration among young people. Due to lack of jobs opportunities, youths who drop out of schools join militant groups. These school/college drop outs are unskilled. Therefore, they are employed and unemployable. The Church should address this urgently. The Church which runs hundreds of schools should take initiatives to impart skill based education in their schools. They should also think of running non-formal, technical and professional institutes. This will partially solve the problem of militancy in the long run.

Another food for thought from the award winner priest is the lack of parental support to male children. Young boys of 12 to 13 years are let free and are not treated equally at home. What can the Church do in this regard? A well drawn up plan to impart family based education in schools and in the church needs to be in place. Home visits which are now a forgotten practice should be revived. A very important step is to set up counselling cells in schools and appoint full time or at least part time counsellors in schools. This is absent in all schools and has an adverse effect on society. Often ‘mischievous’ students are punished or even expelled from school. Such children get into destructive and anti-social activities. They could be saved by counselling. It would prevent them from becoming future militants and criminals.

Unless long term concrete steps are taken, ‘Shalom Meghalaya’ will cease to exist without achieving its goal. It will be replaced by other organization with a different nomenclature. We will be back to square one. However, this does not take away from the fact that there is a general concern at the continued violence in Garo Hills. But there some who do not seem to bother. They live in safe homes in the state capital. Those secured homes extend all the way to Delhi. Their flying visits to Garo Hills too are fully secured. They are escorted by convoys of security personnel that are often eyesores to the public. But that is the reality of life.

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