By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh
On November 22, 2022, while millions of soccer fans, including those from Meghalaya, were cheering for Messi the Argentinian Soccer star who performed at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, in Meghalaya the State suddenly plunged into a deep mess in the aftermath of the gory Mukroh Massacre where innocent villagers were indiscriminately shot at. The incident deserves condemnation in the strongest possible words and those mad cops involved in the unprovoked firing must be prosecuted.
Meghalaya is already a messy state where innocent lives were murdered in cold blood by neighbouring Assam Police and armed forest guards. The Dome of the State Legislative Assembly had collapsed in recent months, several iconic and historical buildings, like the former National Sports Club of Assam (NSCA) and Tara Ghar, are now being demolished for reasons best known to people who preside over the Secretariat. Nearly 50% of children are stunted and health care is in shambles. The Covid19 pandemic which should have taught us to be sober and temperate, had however enriched the few and corruption is at its peak. Besides, that we also have rising unemployment, substance abuse and violence against women etc. Aren’t these signs of a messy or chaotic State and no one seems to bother, except making noises sans a sense of direction.
It is true that Mukroh Village is not a disputed area nor is it in the list of areas of differences between Meghalaya and Assam. In fact, Mukroh is one of the fifty-nine (59) villages which fall under the Elaka and Dolloiship of Raliang in Jaiñtia Hills. However, geographically speaking Mukroh is in close proximity to areas which are situated on the Meghalaya and Assam border. It must be noted that these areas are primarily inhabited by indigenous Mikir and Hynñiewtrep people and these ethnic communities are having their own unique socio-cultural and religious identities with annual collection of non-timber forest produce from the surrounding forests being one of their inherent cultural practices.
Putting forward the historical context, the Jowai sub division was created vide Notification The 16th November 1869 and the said notification described the local limits of the jurisdiction of officers stationed at Jowye, in the District of Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills. Further the Jowye Sub-Division included the whole of Jynteah Hills, consisting of the Police Station and Dolloiships mentioned here: 1. Darrang 2. Jowye 3. Kookees 4. Lakadeng 5. Meekirs 6. Mansaw 7. Muskote 8. Nongbha 9. Nongfloot 10. Nong-Jingee 11. Nongkhlieh 12. Nurpoo 13. Nurtheng 14. Oomeeo and Panchpoonjee 15. Ooomwai 16. Raliang 17. Rambai 18. Sath-Pathar 19. Sath-Poonjee 20. Shang-Poong 21. Shilliang-Muntang 22. Sootoongah and 23. Toomar.
Therefore, the Jowye Sub division of 1869 formed the modern day Jaiñtia or Pnar region which is now under the Jaiñtia Hills Autonomous District Council and the two Administrative Units, i.e, West and East Jaiñtia Hills Districts. Then, history took its own course when in 1950 the Governor of Assam appointed the Commission to examine and report in the matter of, (a) exclusion of certain areas from the United Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills Autonomous District and inclusion of the same in the Autonomous District of Mikir Hills and (b) exclusion of certain areas from the Mikir Hills District. The term of references of the Commission is to- “examine and report the matter of exclusion of two blocks of areas…in the Jowai Sub-Division of the United Khasi-Jaiñtia Hills District and inclusion of the said areas in the Mikir Hills.”
After the consideration of the report of the Commission appointed vide Notification No. TAD/R/31/50 dated the 3rd October 1950, the Governor was pleased to order that the area hitherto comprised within the United Khasi-Jaiñtia Hills District as defined in sub-paragraph (2) of Paragraph 20 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and as described in the schedule of this Notification Dated 13th April 1951, shall be excluded from the said United Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills District. Thus, the exclusion of villages under Block I and II was notified and there are eight (8) villages under Raliang Dolloiship which are included in Block I, viz, 1. Psiar 2. Salait 3. Mawliber 4. Mashbar 5. Mukoilum or Mukolam 6. Lummujin 7. Umkynmi and 8. Mynthing (Reference, Khanasamari-U Khun U Hajar Ka Ri HYnniewtrep by Sumar Sing Sawian).
It was until the creation of the United Mikir Hills and North Cachar Hills District and the subsequent exclusion of villages under Block I and II from the Jowai Sub-Division in 1951 that there began the simmering tensions along the areas bordering the erstwhile United Khasi & Jaiñtia Hills and the Mikir Hills. The border between Meghalaya and Assam runs into 885 kilometres long and in between there are several geographical locations which are considered as disputed or areas of differences and it is an inherited mess which was created by the British. Mostly the areas of dispute or differences were Inter-District border disputes since the erstwhile Assam Province and Composite State of Assam. As a matter of fact, the border between Meghalaya and Assam is a jagged line and since the British era various principles had evolved while determining the boundaries. The ethnic principle was applied for Block I and II in which the tribe-wise comparative population was to determine the boundaries of the Mikir Hills and United Khasi-Jaiñtia Hills District. That the Census Reports of 1951 and 1961 were to be the basis of comparison among Mikirs and non-Mikirs population and the transfer of Block I and II from the Mikir Hills to Jaiñtia Hills will be determined by the population figures. However, this principle had never worked as both the States did not concur on the method of collecting and analysing the data. Thus, the matter remained inconclusive ever since.
The rage against the inability and ineptness of the present Government led by the NPP-BJP-UDP and Regional/Independent combined to bring about lasting solution to border imbroglio is going to be harsher in the coming days and it might rear its ugly head in the form of communal violence in volatile areas in Shillong and elsewhere in the State. The Law enforcers and respective District Authorities as well must be on their toes not to let any backlash occur in any part of the city and the State.
In the aftermath of the Mukroh Massacre the State and people stand to lose big time. We are already losing precious lives and livelihoods, as six innocent lives were shot dead. Innocent villagers along the Meghalaya-Assam Border are living in fear and are suspicious of each other. On the day of the Mukroh incident the vegetable and food vendors in the main commercial hubs shut as early as 8 PM due to sharp and sudden drop in footfall. The impact on shops and business establishments is huge and crores of rupees are being lost since the incident and we will be losing more in the coming days till the tension subsides. Public transport remains off the road at sunset and long-distance commuters are the worst hit and they are in grave distress.
The Mukroh Massacre could have been averted had the Assam Police and the Forest officials acted in a mature manner. The Mukroh-like incident must be stopped from occurring in the future by finding tenable and practical solutions to the border problem. A people-based approach must be adopted and both the States must facilitate people to people interface along the borders and allow them to decide what is best for them. Moreover, the rights of indigenous people to have access to forest must be safeguarded at any cost and as per law.
Lastly my thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families in this darkest hour.