Garo Hills is under a massive social transformation. Public anger has been growing against militancy. For the first time, the region saw protests over kidnapping of the common man not from any indigenous community. At the forefront were all indigenous groups demanding release of the two construction labourers, who belonged to the minority community and hailed from neighbouring Assam. The rally at Kharkutta in North Garo Hills even threatened to launch ‘people’s operation’ if the kidnappers failed to release the duo in two days. The threat worked. The workers were freed the very next day. It was the first of its kind protest in Garo Hills, thanks to the Meghalaya High Court verdict that asked the Union Home Ministry to consider deployment of army to contain rampant and uncontrolled kidnappings, killings and extortion activities in the region.
The HC order already led to a series of protests not only against possible imposition of AFSPA, but also militancy as a whole. Many a protesters were quoted in reports saying that they do not want to face the consequence of the fault of a handful (read militants). But the Kharkutta rally was the first to name any militant outfit Achik National Liberation Army (ANLA), allegedly behind the kidnapping. The protesters even burnt an effigy of the outfit. However, it might take long for the public to come out and vent anger against the dreaded outfit like Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA). While GNLA has been choosy deciding targets, most other criminal gangs, although they too have ideological names, go to any extent to get the money. More or less, the public has understood their motives. So, the increased incidents of lynching of extortionists in the region are not surprising.
Non-tribal people, especially from minority community and those from plain belt region of Garo Hills and neighbouring Assam, have been the targets of militant outfits in Garo Hills. The ratio of attacks on local indigenous people has been very negligible except those on security forces. But the locals apprehend that once Army comes in they will have to face the wrath. They will be questioned for complicity with militant groups, which is a reality and big challenge before security forces. Time will only tell how far this momentum against militancy, created by a high court order, will carry on and make a difference in changing the Garo Hills situation for the better.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on November 27, 2015)