Monday, July 5, 2010

Understanding Meghalaya

Meghalaya was formed by carving out the two districts of the state of Assam: the United Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills, and the Garo Hills on 21 January 1972. The three main tribal groups of Meghalaya are the Garos, the Khasis and the Jaintias. The 2001 census (outdated) puts the Meghalaya population at ~2.3m, of which ~1.2m are the Khasis, ~0.8m are Garos, and the rest Jaintias. Almost all the tribes are matrilinear in nature.

Major differences:
1) The Khasi people call themselves Ki Hynñiew trep, which means "the seven huts" in the Khasi language. The Garo people call themselves Achik Mande, which literally means "hill people," from achik "hill" + mande "people", or simply Achik or Mande.

2) Khasi is a branch of the Mon-Khmer family of the Austroasiatic stock. In fact, the languages of the various sub-tribes of Khasis -- Khasi, Pnar and War -- are the northernmost Austro-Asiatic languages. The Garo language belongs to the Bodo branch of the Bodo-Naga-Kachin family of the Sino-Tibetan phylum.

3) Most Khasis belong to Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic faiths. Most Garos are Christian with a majority of them falling under the Garo Baptist Convention Church. The Jaintias follow a religion called Nimatre. Overall, per 2001 census, Christians are ~70% of the state's population, Hindus ~13%, traditional religions ~11%, Muslims ~4%. (dont ask me more, I am just quoting wiki).

The main terrorist groups of Meghalaya are:
1) The Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) is a product of a 1992 split in the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), the first militant tribal outfit in Meghalaya. The HALC split due to inter-tribal antagonisms leading to the formation of the HNLC and the Achik Matgrik Liberation Army (AMLA). In the erstwhile HALC, the Hynniewtreps (Khasis, who trace their origin to seven celestial families) represented the Khasi and Jaintia tribes and the Achiks represented the Garos in the common fight against the Dkhars or ‘outsiders’. The HNLC was proscribed on November 16, 2000.

Whine profile: An important objective of the HNLC is to transform Meghalaya as a province exclusively for the Khasi tribe and free it from ‘domination’ by the Garo tribe. Another objective is to fight against the presence of 'outsiders', as the HNLC feels that Khasi youth are deprived of the fruits of development in the state. The HNLC deems Khasi and Jaintia Hills as its turf. Uranium is abundant in the West Khasi Hills and the HNLC wants to prevent the extraction of the metal.

Cast members:
a) Julius Dorphang -- Chairman. JD surrendered to the government on July 24, 2007. This surrender was reportedly a result of the internal differences within the organsiation. A group of HNLC cadres was also sent by the outfit's leadership in Bangladesh to eliminate Dorphang. An October 30, 2007 encounter in a locality in Shillong led to the killing of five cadres of the group.
b) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew -- General Secretary (in Bangladesh)
c) M. Diengdoh -- Publicity Secretary
d) Bobby Marwein -- Commander in Chief (in Bangladesh)
e) Sainkupar Nongtraw -- Spokesperson (in Bangladesh)
f) Dominic Kharpuli -- Commander-in-Chief of Hynniewtrep State Democratic Front, a front organisation of HNLC

Connections and recent developments:
Being a predominantly Christian group, there are trans-Christian coordinations with NSCN (IM) in West Khasi Hills, NLFT in Jaintia Hills and NDFB in areas of Ri-Bhoi district. It is surprising to come across connections with NDFB (the Garo language is a Bodo dialect). HNLC promotes the circulation of fake currency in the State, at the behest of ISI-D.

The HNLC is trying to use the unmarked Assam-Meghalaya border issue at Langpih to get into the limelight. It has also been a part of internecine warfare by killing the Khasi Students Union (KSU) leader Phershal Kongwang in 2007 and unsuccessfully trying to kill former Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) chief H.S. Shylla. The HNLC operates a camp in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Constant vigil in Shillong has made it difficult for the HNLC to operate within the city so they have now focused on the coal belts and other mineral-rich border areas as a safe haven for carrying out extortion. Local traders operating across the India-Bangladesh border are also targeted. Reports also show that HNLC has opened a stone quarry in Bangladesh near Dawki in Jaintia Hills, after a scarcity of cash because of its limited capacity to carry out largescale extortion. The outfit also has several betel nut plantations in Bangladesh to earn extra income to conduct its operations. Best estimates put the number of active cadre at 100 with most of them were wandering in Bangladesh to earn for their livelihood.

2) The Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) was formed in December 1995. It was proscribed on November 16, 2000. The outfit, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Govenrment of India on JUly 23, 2004.

Whine profile: The ANVC aims to carve out a homeland called ‘Achik Land’ in the areas of Garo Hills. The proposed ‘Achik Land’ comprises the present districts of Garo Hills in Meghalaya and a large chunk of Kamrup and Goalpara district of Assam. The ‘Garo majority' in these areas is used as the argument for this demand. The ANVC differs from the other Garo separatist organisation, Garo National Council (GNC), which aims for a Garo State comprising only the three districts of the Garo hills.

The Centre is reported to have rejected a demand for a separate Garo State by the ANVC, when the Joint Secretary (in-charge of Northeast) of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Naveen Verma, held a series of meetings with senior State Government officials and discussed a rehabilitation package for the ANVC. Verma is understood to have made it clear that if the ANVC wants a rehabilitation package, it has to leave aside its demand for Garoland, a separate State comprising three Districts of Garo Hills region in Meghalaya.

After the ceasefire agreement has been signed, the 'publicity secretary' of the ANVC, Arist Sengsrang Sangma, suggested the creation of an autonomous body like "Garoland Territorial Council" which can govern itself without any interference from the State Government. According to Sangma, the idea of formation of a "Garoland Territorial Council" for Garo hills, in line with the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), was welcome, but there should be less interference from the State Government and more autonomy to the body, unlike the BTC.

Cast members:
a) Dilash R. Marak -- Chairman
b) Jerome Momin -- Commander in Chief
c) Wanding R. Marak -- General Secretary
d) Artist Sengsrang Sangma -- Publicity Secretary
e) Janggam Momin -- Joint Secretary
f) Rickie Sangma -- Finance Secretary

Connections and recent developments:
The outfit was reportedly formed with the assistance of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Issak Muivah (NSCN-IM). However, it has severed its entire links with the Naga outfit as well as with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). The outfit now maintains links with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), especially after the latter wound up some of its camps in Bhutan and is in the process of relocating them in the Garo Hills. The ANVC has some of its camps in Bangladesh. It is also involved in fake currency circulation initiated by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's external intelligence agency. In Meghalaya, ANVC, along with the other prominent outfit, HNLC, abets this infusion of fake currency and in turn receives considerable operating funds. Extortion remains the major source of funding for the ANVC. Incidents of abduction are frequent in the state. Money is regularly collected from the trading community of the area in the name of ‘fund collection’. However, extortion remains the major source of funding for the ANVC. Incidents of abduction are frequent in the State. Money is regularly collected from the trading community of the area in the name of ‘fund collection’.

On July 23, 2004 a cease-fire agreement was signed between the Government of India and the ANVC for a period of six months. The agreement is signed by the Secretary, Border Management in the MHA, A.K.Rastogi, Chief Secretary of Meghalaya, P.J. Bazely, and representatives of the ANVC (a seven member team) led by its 'General Secretary' Wanding K Marak. Notable among the absentees were Chairman Dilash Marak and Commander-in-Chief Jerome Momin. Leading up to this, on July 2, 2004, the abducted Indian Forest Service official, D Sathyen, is released unharmed in the South Garo Hills district of Meghalaya after about a fortnight amidst claims by the State Government that no ransom was paid to the abductors.

The agreement has since been periodically extended. A ceasefire-monitoring cell has been set up at the Coal India Complex at Araimile in Tura, headquarter of the West Garo Hills district. Two designated camps for housing the surrendered militants have also been set up at Samada and Chokpot in the Garo Hills region. On Aug 31, 2006, the self-styled ‘chairman’ of the ANVC, Dilash Marak, figured in the list of wanted militants, residing in Bangladesh, handed over by the Border Security Force (BSF) to the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) during their meeting in Shillong.

Police sources reports that ANVC is currently divided into three groups: the first major group belongs to those cadres whose primary interest is to be rich by means of extortion. "Most of the cadres belonging to this group have already associated themselves with the new militant outfit GNLA [Garo National Liberation Army] led by Meghalaya Police 'DSP' Champion R. Marak." The GNLA has been under the Police scanner for serving extortion notes, ranging from INR 500,000 to 10m, to petrol pump owners, coal dealers and businessmen in the coal-rich Districts of Garo Hills. The second group includes mostly the top leaders, who are involved in peace talks with the Government. "These top leaders of the ANVC are also living lavish lifestyle." On the other hand, the third group with a very few numbers includes those who wanted to return to the mainstream. "Most of them are ANVC members for namesake only. They are fed up with the outfit's activities."

On May 31, 2010, the ANVC submitted a 12-page memorandum to the Union Government, spelling out the details of its demand for setting up a Garo Autonomous Council. There had been fears that the ceasefire agreement with GoI would not be extended past June 30, 2010 due to repeated ceasefire violations and involvement in the abduction of a coal trader Nokma Chongrin Marak of Garo Hills (ANVC blamed GNLA), but it was extended by three months.

On Mar 16, 2010, the ANVC, after meeting the Centre's interlocutor P.C. Haldar in Shillong, withdrew the threat of pulling out from the cease-fire agreement and agreed to Centre's proposal for periodic agreement with a validity of three months. The central delegation was in favour of a periodical cease-fire extension in place of an indefinite one citing violation of ground rules. In the JMG meeting, the Government delegation had accused the ANVC of giving its support to a new militant group- Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) and engaging in sporadic extortion, an accusation the outfit denied. After the talks, ANVC ''spokesperson'' Torik Jangning Marak said the outfit would not pull out from the ceasefire as "it would affect the prevailing peaceful atmosphere of Garo Hills". "ANVC is not pulling out from the agreement yet we are not happy about as it was a unilateral decision which was taken in the last meeting to have periodic ceasefire," he said. Meanwhile, Telegraph reports that the Centre decided to examine the ANVC's demand for an autonomous body like a Garoland Territorial Council.

Other outfits and players:
3) The emergence of Hynniewtrep Liberation Front (HLF) in Khasi hills has been given a swift blow by some good work by Meghalaya Police.

SATP reports this in Jan 2010:
Meghalaya Police arrested the self-styled 'commander-in-chief' Shembhalang Dkhar and self-styled 'chairman' Roy Kupar Marbaniang of a newly formed militant outfit Hynniewtrep Liberation Front (HLF) from their respective residences at Demthring and Madanriting localities in capital Shillong on January 13, according to Shillong Times. They were arrested after a National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) militant Nickson Khang, who was arrested earlier, revealed the presence of two active militants of the outfit in the city. Police also recovered a cellular phone and a manifesto of the new outfit from Shembhalang Dkhar confirming his links with the new group. Police said that newly formed insurgent group is getting active support from the NSCN-IM which aims at creating a volatile situation in the State. Police sources also added that HLF self-styled 'commander-in-chief' Shembhalang Dkhar had also visited Hebron camp at Dimapur in Nagaland to meet the top leaders of the NSCN-IM on several occasions. The Superintendent of Police (Crime) Vivek Syiem on January 14 said the new insurgent group was supposed to send its 30 cadres to the Hebron camp of the NSCN-IM for training. Another police official also said the present rift between the HNLC and NSCN-IM has compelled the latter to form a new group to expand its network in the State, while adding the insurgent group is also on the look out to form another militant outfit in Garo Hills. Police estimate that the present strength of the HLF might be around 10 cadres. Police sources also confirmed that Nickson Khang, who was arrested on January 10 in connection with the attempted abduction of the son of a city-based trader, was sent by the NSCN-IM to float a new militant outfit in the State for logistical support to the Naga group.

4) With the support of ULFA, NSCN, NDFB and UPDS, a new outfit Liberation of Achik Elite Force (LAEF) emerged in the Garo Hills in 2005. The LAEF's new 'commander-in-chief' Daria Sangma, while speaking to the media over phone, reconfirms the Meghalaya Police’s claim that the LAEF has forged ties with the Assam-based Black Widow (BW) outfit. He said that it was in the interest of consolidating LAEF to pursue its goal of a ‘separate Garo state’.

Daria also said the Garo outfit had recently held a general council meeting in the West Khasi Hills in which he was appointed the new ‘army chief’ in the presence of LAEF ‘chairman’ Darong T. Marak who, according to police, had been killed by his own colleagues long ago. The LAEF general council meeting is said to have also appointed one Khanam D. Shira as ‘general secretary’ of the outfit, besides a former ANVC cadre Nikseng Sangma holding an important portfolio within the group. Nikseng had deserted the ANVC and joined with former ANVC 'eastern area commander' Sohan D. Shira to help the LAEF during the early days of its formation. Following the killing of the then ‘chairman’ Peter Marak in the hands of police and subsequent surrender of Sohan before the government, Nikseng reportedly fled into the LAEF stronghold of West Khasi Hills. Daria also says tells the media that the general council meeting had taken up several resolutions one of which was to turn ‘pro-active’ in its operations against certain organisations aligning with the government to wipe out the outfit.

Recent action has led to some reduction in extortion. Nevertheless some elements of LAEF continue to operate in the Garo Hills.

5) There are reports of senior police official Champion R. Sangma (Pakchara R. Sangma) deserting the police and joining the nascent Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) formed by the deserters of the Achik National Volunteer’s Council (ANVC), which is currently under ceasefire. On Mar 28, 2010, C. R. Sangma issued a press statement 'confirming' himself as the 'chairman' of the GNLA outfit and threatened to take on the ANVC, accusing it of 'harassing' the weaker sections of the Garo society.

A report adds that GNLA is being led by the DSP Champion Marak while former ANVC ‘area commander’ of East Garo Hills, Sohan D. Shira, is believed to be the ‘commander in chief’. The group is also said to be in close ties with the NSCN-IM and presently has 20 well-armed cadres who have recently served extortion notes demanding huge amounts of ransom in East and South Garo Hills. The group is also trying to wean away many of the disgruntled ANVC cadres who are annoyed with their leadership over the handling of the ongoing peace process.

Other militant groups active in Garo hills are
6) People's Liberation Front of Meghalaya (PLF-M) and United Achik National Front (UANF): When the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC) split in 1992, it resulted in the formation of the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), which represents the Khasis in Meghalaya, and the Achik Liberation Matgrik Army (ALMA), which wanted a separate Garoland State for the Garos. The PLF-M is an offshoot of this Achik Liberation Matgrik Army (ALMA). Most of the ALMA terrorists surrendered in 1994, but a few formed the Achik National Volunteers' Council (ANVC) in 1995. The PLF-M consists of some of these "surrendered rebels" of the erstwhile ALMA who returned underground after their rehabilitation scheme failed. The exact strength of the outfit is not known.

While the PLFM was very active in Garo Hills from the latter part of 1990s, some members of that outfit formed the UANF in 2001.

7) Achik National Liberation Front Army (ANLFA), a breakaway group of the ANVC also formed in 2005. The ANLFA accuse the Meghalaya Government of being soft on the ANVC, which is currently under a cease-fire with the Union and State Governments. The ANLFA alleges that the State Government is turning a blind eye to the ‘atrocities’ committed by the ANVC cadres in Garo Hills.

8) Achik National Security Defence (ANSD) and Atong Liberation Army (ALA): Meghalaya Police said that the newly formed militant outfits, the Atong Liberation Army (ALA) in South Garo Hills, and Achik National Security Defence (ANSD) in West Khasi Hills, are being used by the NSCN-IM and ANVC for carrying out an extortion drive in coal belt areas. Police sources said the ALA and ANSD were extorting money from coal-laden trucks and coal exporters in West Khasi Hills and South Garo Hills.

9) ULFA and NDFB are also active in Garo hills and border of Ri Bhoi District.

10) Khasi Students Union: The KSU primarily acts as a student voice for Khasi students, but like AASU, it has let political bigwigs and terrorists speak for it often enough. The Khasi Students Union, the Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People and the Hynniewtrep National Youth Front oppose the Uranium mining project during the meeting with GoI representatives.

a) Hamlet Dohling -- General secretary
b) Phershal Kongwang -- killed by HNLC in 2007

11) The political scene: To be perfectly honest, the political scene has been one of a joke. See Linky. I prefer to leave the political scene alone to cause less heart-ache to the reader.

12) Bangladesh: Read it from The Bangla hand.

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