Borders as neglected living spaces

Meghalaya’s borders with Assam are also some of the most under-developed areas where residents feel they have been left orphaned to manage their own lives. While there is a Border Areas Development Department it appears to be dealing only with Districts, Blocks and villages at the international border with Bangladesh. The villages bordering Assam are like any rural outback where there are no roads or broken roads that make it difficult for people to traverse for trade and commerce. UDP general Secretary, Jemino Mawthoh’s comments in the media about the Government setting up a skilled border guards force in Barato shows his lack of understanding of the sentiments of the people of Mukroh. Barato is at least 13 kms from Mokailum where the Assam Police border outpost is. Between Mukroh and Mokoilum are miles and miles of rice fields where the people of Mukroh are farming, agriculture being their only livelihood. They live in fear of Assam Police or forest guards taking over their rice fields. As it is they are constantly taxed for no reason whatsoever except that they live and farm in contested spaces.
The tragedy about borders is that they are only intermittently remembered by those in Government; those waiting in the wings to make political capital out of every tragedy and politicians, all of whom have a short-term interest in the welfare of the border residents. There is no clear policy on how to empower border residents with documents that establish them as belonging to the State of Meghalaya. Border residents cannot be identified on the basis of their community. If they have resided in Meghalaya and have the necessary papers to prove their domicile they ought to be given due recognition by way of the Aadhar card etc. That way they become loyal residents safeguarding the interest of their state of domicile. But many are turned away by the district officials when they go and register for their Aadhar cards only because they are not ‘indigenous.’ There are, for instance, a substantial non-tribal population in the borders with Karbi Anglong adjoining Ri Bhoi district. A visit to Umden will reveal that a large number of Karbi people are residents of the area and recognised citizens of Meghalaya. While their counterparts in Karbi Anglong carry the clan name of Timung, in the Khasi Hills (Ri Bhoi district) they have shortened it to Tmung. And there are other clans as well that have merged with Khasi clans. The women of Umden are weavers of eri silk and have made a name for themselves in the world. This is a livelihood over and above farming. And this has happened because of Government intervention. Similar approaches are needed to assist the border residents in West Jaintia and West Khasi Hills.

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