By HH Mohrmen
I believe I have the right to comment on the recent unfortunate incident at Mukroh at least on two counts. My father who grew up in Umwasoo village which is now part of Karbi Anglong. He knew the region very well and he spoke chaste Karbi. He was also part of the movement which spearheaded the demand for returning the Pnar villages to Jañtia hills in Meghalaya. I still remember they would sometimes meet at our residence in Jowai and the members present included the daloi of eleka Raliang among others. The second and most important reason is that my previous job required that I visit the area in conflict at least once a year. For three decades since I began my ministry till I retired in the middle of this year, I visited the area regularly except for the few years when the militants from both sides (Karbi and Meghalaya) were active in the region. I had actually walked from Tihwieh on the banks of the river Myntang to Umkhyrmi and once even from Mukhap to Umkhyrmi. My first visit to the area was over four decades ago when I was just a young boy.
The Pnar-Karbi affinity
The Pnars and Karbis had lived in peaceful coexistence with each other from time immemorial. They even have shared folk traditions like the institute of shamanism and the stories of the Tigerman. Amongst the Pnar the shamans from Karbi (ki stad Bhoi) are considered to be more powerful than the Pnar shaman. There are cases where the Pnar had the tradition of “ting kur” (shared natal clan) with a clan from Karbi in this area. For instance the Timung with the Dkhar. But the most interesting affinity between the two tribes are the shared stories of Tigerman. When I asked my father’s contemporary Elizar Bongrung about the stories of the Kabri Tigerman, he said in Pnar “ka Pnar sae was stad u kylla khla.” Amongst the Karbi in this area instead of a Tigerman, they have the story of “Killing Chongkret” which is a weird-looking animal with a body of a tiger, the face of a bear, the foot of a pig or an elephant, and so forth. (Mohrmen H.H., Cultural History of Jañtia hills in Stories, stones and traditions, 2021). The Pnar also still share the story of a very popular Tigerman from Karbi called “u Beh Kangtang ka Moothadae” (Mohrmen H.H. Ki Kjat Jingshai ka Mynnor, 2021).
The area had
The area in question is between Sahsniang, Khatkasla, Psiar, Moolber, Myngkoiloom, Lummujem, Umkhyrmi, Langduk Anglong, and Koma Anglong or Rongkimih and Mukroh. The two main entry points from West Jañtia hills to this region are from Barato via Mukroh and another from Sahsniang, Tihwieh, Khatkasla. There are also footpaths that one can use to visit this region from Mowchrot and also from Tamu. In one of the meetings of the organisation for returning of the block I and II areas to Meghalaya, I overheard the daloi of Raliang thundering, “u tala-khat-ar-kor,” a twelve- machine lock, and the kid that I was, could not understand the meaning of his expression. Later I realized that he was referring to the border imbroglio in the area which is also known amongst the Pnar as Pangngam Raliang meaning a hard nut to crack.
In the winter of 2002 when elections to the state assembly were just around the corner suspected Karbi militants killed 7 people from Mukroh village. I saw the dead bodies when they were brought to Nartiang Police station for post-mortem. A year later about five thousand Pnar from this area fled to Sahsniang because of the atrocities inflicted upon them by the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and the Karbi National Volunteers (KNV). The Pnars mostly from Lummoojem, Umkhyrmi, Myngkoilum, Moolber, Psiar and Khatkasla, Chnong thyme, and other villages fled their homes to take shelter at Sahsniang.
The region on both the Jañtia and the Karbi sides has experienced its fair share of ordeal inflicted by militants that include the Hynñew Trep National Liberation Council (HNLC) which was then camped at Mukroh. HNLC disarmed the Police who camped at Mukroh and they stayed in the area until the police of Jañtia hills under the leadership of SP O. Pasi busted their camp and arrested some of the militants from the village. On October 17, a KADC bus from this area was ambushed by Dimasa Halam Daogah (DHD) militants. 23 passengers were on the bus.
It is an open secret that the smuggling of timber from the villages in the Karbi-dominated area to Jañtia hills happens regularly and surely not without the knowledge of the Assam Police and the foresters who camp just between Mukroh and Koma Anglong/Rongkimih. To understand the magnitude of the illegal trade one has to only travel to the border villages and count the numbers of illegal saw mills established on the Meghalaya border. The case as alleged by the Assam police and the foresters was a stray case of the owner of the truck carrying the illegal consignment and escaping their hold without greasing their palm. Timber smuggling in this sector of the inter-state border happens and with the knowledge of the police and the foresters. The only mistake the Assam party made that day was to hold the farmers on a Maruti car 800 hostage in place of the escaped smugglers. This is rice harvesting season and the farmers were carrying a few bags of rice from their fields in the Karbi-dominated area to their homes in Mukroh.
The people of Mukroh are mostly farmers and have paddy fields in the area where the Karbis are a majority now. They knew that if they allow the police to harass them then there will be no end to it. They will be at their mercy even if the activity they engaged in is not legal. The people of Mukroh would not have cared if the Assam police had detained the smugglers because such cases happened regularly. The unfortunate incident occurred when the public tried to persuade the police and the foresters to release the farmers they had detained. But the question is how long can we allow this to continue? How many more lives are we going to lose before this is stopped?
You can’t choose
The Karbis and the Pnars in this area had been living together for ages hence they have no other option but to continue to do so and the only way forward is living in peace and harmony. When unfortunate incidents occur, friends and sympathizers from both Assam and Meghalaya will come and go; some will come to help douse the flame, while others with their ulterior motives will only add fuel to the fire. But what when this is over? The Pnar and the Karbi in the area will have to live together.
On my visit to the area at the beginning of this year, I was glad to see a very good road from Barato via Mukroh in Jañtia hills to Myngkoilum via Koma Anglong/Rongkimih, Umkhyrmi/Langduk Anglong on the Karbi side. Deep inside me, I thought this road will help reconnect the people who once had lived happily together.
The people of the area need peace and the only way to peaceful co-existence is reconciliation. The first step to reconciliation is to be truthful and accept the truth as it is and not as we wish it to be. We have to be realistic in our approach to reach an understanding which is acceptable to all. Truth is a bitter pill to swallow but it is the only remedy for chronic illness. History may be on the side of the Pnars of Meghalaya, but the reality on the ground is different as people who live in the many villages in the area are predominantly Karbis. The solution is to be pragmatic and let villages with a majority of Karbis like Koma Anglong/Rongkimih near Mukroh, Longduk Anglong/Umkhyrmi, Myngkoilum be part of Karbi Anglong district of Assam, and villages like Chnong Thymme, Moolber, Psiar, Khatkasla and Mukroh where the villagers are predominantly Pnar, to remain under Laskeñ block of West Jañtia hills district.
Meghalaya may set up a police station on the border of Mukroh village opposite the Assam police or foresters’ camp and this will certainly help prevent untoward incidents in the future. There is no use to set up a police outpost at Tihwieh because the area on this side of river Myntang is well within Meghalaya, unless the government of Meghalaya wishes to establish the river Myntang as the boundary on this side of the border. If the people in the village from Khatkasla to Chnong Thymme feel the need of a police station, Meghalaya should either set one up at Moolber or Chnong Thymme. I only hope that good sense prevails and people see the futility of fighting each other which will only lead to more bloodshed.