The rising protests in Garo Hills have some new element in them. Although apparently it is against the Meghalaya High Court order favouring army operations in the militancy-infested region, people have started openly talking against militancy. The fear factor is somewhat missing. Earlier there used to be ‘call for peace’. The connotation is different now – lay down arms, join mainstream etc. People have started wondering why should they suffer for the misdeeds of ‘a handful’? Indeed, they are a handful. But they apparently have deep nexus. Even political parties sing different tunes about them as they near the polls. The state police even filed chargesheet against current social welfare minister Deborah Marak for having used the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) in the 2013 assembly elections.
While one high court order curtailing powers of traditional chiefs led to political turmoil in the state, the recent one too had deep impact. While most of the organizations have voiced concern against possible imposition of AFSPA in the region, a few have welcomed army operations while some others demanded CBI/NIA probe into the growth of militancy. In the several rallies across Garo Hills since the high court order on November 2, the second voice of protest was against militancy as a whole. None demanded the government to extend the olive branch, but asked the militant groups to do so. The message is loud and clear that they are not going to get the same ‘support’ they have been getting so far. In fact, most of the support these groups boast about is due to fear for life.
The protests in Garo Hills have not stopped despite the Centre making it clear its intention of not deploying army in the region. But, perhaps, the people of Garo Hills do not want to leave this ‘opportunity’ of putting pressure on the militant groups. Had there been no high court order, they would have never been able to come out in the open to speak against the armed outfits. Since their own life was at stake (since AFSPA may be imposed), the order has become a strong weapon for the people to hit the streets against militancy. The growing public anger is also visible in a few incidents of lynching of militants and dacoits. If people remain so firm (against militancy) the day is not far when there will be no question of bringing army to Garo Hills.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on November 13, 2015)