The fear of the worst has loomed large over Garo Hills. Army operations armed with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) have hardly gone down well in the Northeast. Insurgency remains a big issue in states where AFSPA is in force for years. People of Garo Hills did not fear militancy as much as army. The perception is such that army, the protectors of the nation, is the worst enemy. The fear is not without reason. There have been numerous proven cases of human rights violations in the region, thanks to AFSPA that facilitates army operations. Under AFSPA, the forces become less liable to answer for arrest, encounter and killing. There have been cases of army picking up ‘insurgents’ from their homes and the latter going missing for years or their bodies found some days later. AFSPA gives the shield to army in such cases.
In any part of the world, militants get support from the sons of the soil because the ‘locals’ are seldom targeted. Basically, it is the minority communities, the state forces, or the outsiders who are the prime targets of militants. The percentage of Garo civilians being killed or abducted in Garo Hills in the decades-old militancy is much lesser compared to victims in the armed forces, minority communities and outsiders. In Assam too, there were gruesome killings of Hindi-speaking people by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). People were not much concerned then till 17 children were killed in a bomb blast during Independence Day celebrations at Dhemaji. Militants lose public support when they start targeting ‘own people’. For the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), the most dreaded militant outfit in Garo Hills, the infamous killing of Josbina Sangma in Chokpot was the lowest point. There is when the outfit’s public support started dwindling.
The much-publicised homecoming ceremonies of militants have yielded little results so far in Garo Hills. While old batch of militants are getting rehabilitated, new groups are joining the fray. The ‘retirement’ benefits might have attracted the new gangs commit as much as crimes to get noticed by the government. A militant surrendering with a pistol carries greater value than one without it, for the government. Two top-ranking Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) militants are now the members of the legislative assembly and the district council. They are ‘peace-loving’ people now. But are they not setting examples to extremist elements to carry on, to get the ‘reward’ in future. The choice between militancy and army operations is very hard. People must wake up against crimes in the name of militancy even if ‘own people’ are not the targets, or give the army a chance.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on November 6, 2015)