Border residents mentally in Meghalaya

Locals wait for an end to pressure from Assam authorities

SHILLONG, July 11: A. Nongrum wonders how many generations it would take for people of her village Jaitlong in Ri Bhoi district’s disputed Block II to be in Meghalaya for good.
“I have grown up yearning to officially belong to the state I am a resident of,” she told The Shillong Times while slicing green pears with her four children on the porch of her bamboo hut.
Thousands of others in villages under Block I and II of the erstwhile Khasi and Jaintia Hills district have a similar wish.
Block I and Block II were said to have been forcibly tagged with the erstwhile Mikir Hills Autonomous District Council through a notification on April 13, 1951.
Nongrum said the status of Jaitlong has made the villagers suffer lack of development besides putting up with a confrontation with the authorities in Assam for a long time now.
“Chopping down a tree or clearing bamboos on our own land attracts objection from Assam, which claims our village is on forestland,” she said. And this is just one of the daily troubles for the villagers.
She said the villagers barring a few choose to vote in Meghalaya although they have been enrolled in Assam.
“We believe we are in Meghalaya but Assam stakes claim on our land on the basis of a Survey of India map,” another resident, J. Lyngdoh told ST.
“How can we be residents of Assam when our language, traditions and culture cry Meghalaya?” he asked.
He added that the Assam police always outnumber their Meghalaya counterparts whenever an issue crops up and exert their dominance in the disputed areas.
Secretary of Jaitlong, Proming Surong said there are 63 houses in the village of 345 people.
He said Block II has 18 disputed villages under Raid Nongtung of Ri Bhoi district and eight of these have a mixed population.
Dual voting used to be an issue in Jaitlong, but the villagers had in 2018 not to vote in Assam. “We stand our ground whenever they come and try to force us to vote,” Surong said, adding some 12 houses from the mixed villages voted in the Assam elections three months ago.
He rued the lack of support from Meghalaya, which the villagers see as a permanent solution to their problems.
President of Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong, Border Area, Blickstar Sohtun said the Assam authorities disturb the implementation of schemes received from the Meghalaya government. “They also disrupt agricultural activities and we would like to see that the Assam government does not disturb development activities initiated by the Meghalaya Government,” he added.  He further said the beneficiaries of most of the schemes of the Assam government were non-Khasis.
On the proposed give-and-take policy to solve the dispute, he said: “All the Rangbah Shnongs of the border areas do not want to talk about this policy. We want to claim what is ours and the boundary under Raid Nongtung should remain with Meghalaya.”
Successive governments have not been able to resolve the boundary dispute despite several rounds of talks.
The issue has taken centre stage yet again after Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he was keen on solving the vexed issue through a give-and-take policy. While the Opposition Congress is apprehensive about such a strategy, most of the MDA allies and pressure groups said consultation with all stakeholders was a prerequisite for discussions on the matter.
The total disputed area on the Assam-Meghalaya boundary is approximately 2,729.14 sq. km, which both the states are trying to resolve through dialogues.
There are 12 areas of differences along the interstate border. These are Tarabari (4.69 sq. km), Gizang (13.53 sq.km), Hahim (3.51 sq. km), Langpih (298.07 sq. km), Borduar (147.83 sq. km), Boklapara (1.57 sq. km), Nongwah-Mawtamur (137.51 sq. km), Khanapara-Pilangkata (2.29 sq. km), Desh Doomreah (487.72 sq. km), Block I and Block II (1547.42 sq. km), Khanduli-Psiar (76.80 sq. km) and Ratacherra (11.20 sq. km).

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