A pall of hopelessness and gloom hangs over Mukroh

SHILLONG, Nov 23: Tucked away in the deep recesses of the West Jaintia Hills and bordering Assam’s Karbi Anglong district is Mukroh village that is adjacent to Barato. It takes all of 8 hours of travel from Shillong, over non-existent roads at several stretches to arrive at what appears to be a newly constructed highway over Barato village that goes on to Mukroh and up to Mokoilum where the border outpost of Meghalaya lies.
On November 22, five villagers from the Meghalaya side were shot by Assam Police when they tried to rescue their fellow villagers who had gone to harvest their crops over what is considered an area of contestation between Assam and Meghalaya. Borders between states do not have fences and unlike international borders they are not sharply demarcated. Before the advent of the nation state these were forested areas where the tribals resided in a spirit of interdependence.
The notion of the ‘state’ came in with the British who employed their own standards of administration. Whether the tribals agreed to this process is debatable but they had no say in the crafting of their own destinies. This uncertainty prevails even today under the Indian state.
After Assam was bifurcated to create Meghalaya in 1972, the boundaries between the so-called parent state and the offshoots remained tenuous and unresolved even today. This has led to intermittent border clashes that have led to loss of lives on the Meghalaya side.
It was yet another clash over invisible borders that led to the massacre of five villagers of Mukroh village – Tal Shadap, Si Dhar, Sik Talang, Tal Nartiang and Chirup Sumer – when Assam police fired indiscriminately after they were gheraoed by villagers who wanted to rescue some farmers who had gone to harvest their paddy in fields that ostensibly were in Assam territory and were therefore apprehended by Assam Police. In the melee Assam police fired to kill. It is not known as to how some of the bodies of those killed fell into the ravine below the road level.
The road leading from Mukroh to Mokoilung had blood spilt all over. On Wednesday the blood stains were covered with mud and sand.
What strikes the onlooker about these bereaved families particularly the wives of the deceased persons was a stoic acceptance of the tragedy as something inevitable. There was deep sorrow in their eyes; they wept when the intensity of the tragedy hits home but quickly wipe their tears and tell the visitors who come to pay their condolences to have tea or a meal before they leave for the cremation ground.
While groups like the HYC demonstrated their antipathy towards Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and his cabinet colleagues who visited Mukroh on Wednesday, the local NGOs cooked food for the guests and served packed food to the accompanying entourage of police personnel.
The funeral service of Tal Shadap happened in his maternal home even while his son read out a tearful message to his father.
At the residence of one of the deceased, Cabinet Minister Banteidor Lyngdoh was accompanied by his wife. Also seen with him were Sohra MLA Gavin Miguel Mylliem and local MLA Nujorki Sungoh.
L Kyndiah an elder of the area who married into the village told this correspondent, “Those who died yesterday are among the poorest of the poor.” This was evident from the tiny little huts they lived in. One widow had no children but what about those that have 6-7 children? What would their fate be now that the sole bread earner is gone? While the Meghalaya government has paid a one-time compensation of Rs 5 lakh it is important that the children too are cared for and retained in school up to the time they complete their education.
The general feeling of the Mukroh elders spoken to is that there must be a border outpost that is manned by a strong and well-trained special force from Meghalaya police at Mokoilum, rather than having an outpost at Barato which is at a distance from the border.
What is conspicuous is that Assam Police had entered nearly 9 km inside Meghalaya territory when they fired the fatal shots. The blood stains along the highway were covered by sand and mud to prevent their goriness. But those stains remain in the memories of those that the deceased have left behind.
Later, some of the visitors wanted to visit the border outpost to understand the contour of the conflict but the villagers of Mukroh had barricaded the road with trees they had felled saying that they did not want Assam vehicles to come to their village.

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