People of Garo Hills in Meghalaya have hope, for peace, once again. Nearly 70 cadres of a lesser-known but dreaded outfit, United Achik Liberation Army (UALA), have formally come overground, laying down their arms and disbanding the outfit. Not persistent in their activities, the outfit was however infamous for its hand in massacre of 7 Diwali revellers of a particular community in neighbouring Assam in 2013. It is now understood that the government will not pursue the case against the outfit as strong as before. It will be injustice caused to the victims’ families for ‘greater interest’. It is this ‘greater interest’ for which insurgents, accused of killing, torturing and abducting people, have been offered lenience for decades. The ‘greater interest’ has seen many such militants climbing political ladders or making business fortunes. Allegations are aplenty about surrendered rebels using their ‘past’ to get contracts and get favourable business deals. Just recently, the ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and his group, who gloriously gave up violence amid grand accolades, were accused of land grabbing near Guwahati in the name of environment protection.
Most rebel groups in the North-east no more fit to the term “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. These groups are formed overnight following fratricidal clashes. All the outfits in Garo Hills have leaders coming from bigger outfits like the ANVC and the GNLA. Even the GNLA was formed by leader of ANVC, following the latter joined truce with the government. It has been a never-ending process. Some aged and tired insurgents join the mainstream, but the outfit does not die. It case it is disbanded, two others are born. The UALA was formed by former GNLA leaders. Nobody knows what’s its ‘ideology’? There is little chance of the group having a ‘constitution’, like many other groups, which otherwise are dreaded names for the people.
So, what is the worth of these conventional peace process, disbanding, surrender etc. Once they come over ground, there has been no instance of anyone being convicted of any crime! There must have been a government assurance to them of pursuing their cases lightly, as a pre-condition for ‘peace’, at the cost of injustice to victims of insurgency. What ‘greater interest’ these homecomings have served is a matter of serious introspection and it’s time authorities change such strategy of quelling militancy.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on June 11, 2016)