Wolves of Meghalaya

By Deepa Majumdar

This article is dedicated to the memory of Raju Mondal, and to his co-workers who survived. I live thousands of miles away in another country. But Aminul Islam’s grief-stricken face will remain etched in my mind for a long time. How he and his surviving friends will heal mentally from the cowardly attack (described by Shillong Times as “blood-curdling”) they suffered on Feb 24 night, on the premises of St. Xavier’s College, Umoid, is beyond me. How they brought the body of twenty-year old Raju Mondal, who died as a result of this attack, back to his family, especially to his mother, is again, beyond me. What did they do to deserve this dastardly act of violence? Will the attackers face the stiff punishments they deserve? Will their own families hand them over to the police, like they should?

I always thought America’s drone attacks were the most cowardly form of violence ever. Yet, the violence of ISIS matched that of America in strange ways. Although an unholy David-Goliath in their disproportion, they matched one another in their hatred, with ISIS’ crude old world techniques of killing mocking America’s technologically advanced weapons. Both matched one another also in their barbaric cowardice. Despite the technical gulf in their weapons, both used armed assailants to attack innocent unarmed victims.

But the Umoid attack, while on par with ISIS and drone attacks in its barbarism and cowardice, takes my breath away. More cowardly than cowardice itself, these armed assailants numbered more than three times the number of innocent unarmed workers they attacked. What is most disgusting is the fact they attacked their victims while they were sleeping. What can be more cowardly and evil? Yes they attacked with sticks and knives, which are old fashioned weapons compared to drones. But the deeds they committed were no less evil. Besides racism what else could have motivated these killers? Their victims were innocent workers with proper documentation, whose only “fault” was the poverty that brought them to Meghalaya. That this barbaric attack took place on the premises of the Jesuits is all the more disconcerting, because it shows that nothing is sacrosanct to the lawless (not religion, proper documentation, or rules and regulations). It proves how emboldened the assailants felt, perhaps because they knew that law and order in Meghalaya is toothless.

The peace rallies that have already taken place to protest this tragedy, are commendable. But surely more is needed. I understand the need to separate church and state, this being an ancient wisdom in the western world. But given the barbaric nature of this pre-meditated crime, shouldn’t religious leaders of Shillong call for a day of penance for this dastardly attack, with prayer vigils for the speedy recovery of the survivors, and for the soul of Raju Mondal, as well as prayers for the souls of their attackers, whose minds must be in a state of living hell right now? Shouldn’t there be a day of reflection on the broader issue of Khasi violence against “outsiders” or on identity politics as such? Shouldn’t Khasi civil society reflect on what causes their young men to become so hate-filled? If it is identity politics that causes this kind of hatred then it is surely imperative to introspect and throw aside those narcissistic aspects of the Khasi identity that cause hatred towards non-Khasis? When George Floyd died, America saw the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movements erupt nationwide and spread overseas. Will Meghalaya or Assam, leave alone India, see any protests for Raju Mondal, who died needlessly, and for his injured friends who survived with physical and mental wounds? Or, are their lives not worthy, since they are impoverished “outsiders”? To the rest of India, caught up in the hypocrisy of modernity, Meghalaya may be a quaint place to visit as tourists. They may not even know of the history of violence against non-tribals in Meghalaya. Or, they may fall for Meghalaya’s sob stories of fears of extinction, without heeding the violence committed by tribals against innocent non-tribals to prevent extinction! Moreover, the sense of Indian brotherhood may not be strong enough as yet, to rouse protests of the scale and order of the George Floyd demonstrations.

But surely Assam should divert all its communal anger in a more righteous direction to protest loudly and clearly this horrific tragedy and to demand recompense? Surely Delhi should protest this sort of barbaric racism and probe into the failed state Meghalaya is turning into? Above all, surely Meghalaya should be filled with uncompromising protests against this act of barbarism, alongside setting aside days of atonement? To protest this crime for fear that the Jesuits will now leave Meghalaya is too self-serving to qualify as true atonement. Where is the sincere hand wringing and penance in a state filled mostly with followers of the gentle Christ? Although money can hardly compensate for loss of life, surely Raju Mondal’s impoverished family should receive reparations for his loss of life? Surely, the six workers who survived, should receive monetary compensation for the traumas they suffered and the jobs they lost?

 It is almost a law of the universe that violence always boomerangs back to perpetrators. I have read of American soldiers returning with broken bodies and minds because of the acts of violence they were forced to commit. I remember reading of one such soldier washing his hands again and again. When asked why he did so, he replied he was trying to wash off the blood of his victims from his hands. Yet, this kind of remorse happens only to those souls that are still capable of shame. Once the threshold of shame is crossed, the only solution is appropriate (proportionate) redemptive punishment. The armed men who attacked Islam and his friends were not soldiers forced into impossible situations of violence. They are cold-blooded murderers, who are too far gone, well beyond the threshold of shame, to experience remorse. They deserve the stiffest punishment, short of the death penalty, which is and always will be morally wrong.

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