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Church propaganda in india.

Garo-Rabha Conflict: Who’s Responsible?
In view of a number of conflicting factors and also the alleged nexus among certain groups, including the Church, as brought out in the GRPC’s memorandum to the Prime Minister, a thorough probe into the Garo-Rabha clashes by the NIA is called for

T he New Year 2011 witnessed terrible communal and ethnic violence in the bordering villages of Meghalaya’s East Garo Hills district and Assam’s Goalpara district involving the Garo and Rabha communities. The violence resulted in the killing of 27 people, a majority of the victims being Rabhas, torching of about 1,550 houses, rendering about 50,000 people of 32 villages homeless. They were temporarily put up in 25 Rabha camps in Assam and six Garo camps and two Rabha camps in East Garo Hills district.

According to media reports, the Deputy Commissioner of East Garo Hills district said on January 4 that the fighting broke out after some Garo youths and two Meghalaya police jeeps were allegedly attacked by the people from the Rabha community. A media report from Tura suggested that the recent economic blockade called by Rabhas to press their demand for implementation of Sixth Schedule provisions, attack on a vehicle carrying a marriage party and on a Church pastor on the eve of Christmas, and another attack on a group of picnickers and the burning down of a motorbike, whose occupants barely managed to escape, on January 2, triggered the retaliation with the first case of arson and attacks taking place late on the January 2 night.

In a joint memorandum dated January 15, addressed to the Prime Minister, Garo-Rabha Peace Council (GRPC) president Sikram Sangma and secretary Jitendra Rabha questioned the authenticity of this report:

“But the identity of the marriage party and the pastor have not been disclosed. Again there was a report that a Catholic priest was attacked. But what is the identity of this priest, nobody knows. Whose motorbike was attacked? Who attacked two Meghalaya Police jeeps? Why were the culprits not arrested and their identities not disclosed? Who were the Garo picnickers who looted and burnt a Rabha grocery shop at Harikata village and burnt down two Rabha houses at Hatimara village on Sunday night, unprovoked? Should the minor incidents culminate in the form of genocide? Who are the instigators? Thorough investigation of all these points suggests the involvement of a nexus of the Church, terrorist outfits, Bangladeshi Muslims, masked NGOs, pseudo-secularists and human rights organizations, selfish politicians and fanatic Christian elements of Meghalaya. A notorious Bangladeshi Muslim, Mohammed Sheikh Shah Alam, former MLA of East Goalpara constituency, was seen pro-active in instigating the violence.”

In the memorandum, the GRPC has also raised allegations of a close nexus of a section of the radical Church leaders with Christian militant outfits — Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) and Garo National Liberation Force (GNLF) — which, as per some media reports, attacked Rabha villages in East Garo Hills district and bordering Assam villages in Goalpara district using AK-47/56 rifles. The GRPC has also alleged that a large number of Bangladeshi Muslims, who have married Garo girls, are eyeing the fertile plain cultivable lands owned by Rabha Hindus, and they want to oust the Rabhas from their villages so that they can occupy the displaced Rabhas’ land. It is further alleged: “These Muslims have formed a United Front comprised of (sic) Garo Christians, Muslims and disgruntled non-Rabha groups. They are helping the Garos in burning Rabha villages.”

The GRPC has also pointed its accusing fingers at the ‘‘hostile Church’’ whose ‘‘missionary mission is very aggressive and multi-pronged in this area. Before and after Christmas, the programmes of the Church and door-to-door contact by missionaries are aggressive which Rabhas do not like. The hostile role of the Church during the Dimasa-Karbi clash in 2005 and Dimasa-Jeme upheaval in 2009 was witnessed. Similarly, the hostile role of the Church is also experienced in the current clash between Garos and Rabhas. This opinion is strengthened by the fact that altogether 10 mandirs of Rabha Hindus have been burnt down in various Rabha villages whereas not even a single church is harmed.”

The GRPC gives another example of radicalization of a section of Christians, stating that on October 30, 2010, a temple of Rabha Hindus in William Nagar was attacked by Garo Christians while protesting against civic polls in Garo Hills. Incidentally, 85 per cent of Garos are reportedly Christians, and Rabha Hindus and Garo Hindus are a minority in Meghalaya, for which the latter need adequate protection from the majority community as well as the State government, which is reportedly not provided.

The role of politicians in fomenting the clashes in the bordering villages of both the States also cannot be ruled out. As the Assam elections are knocking at the door, incitement to attack the Rabhas, displacing them from their hearth and homes, putting them in relief camps, and then helping them with doles so as to win their votes is also highly probable. Besides, the demand by the Rabhas of Assam for Sixth Schedule status, like the Bodoland Territorial Council, has also created unrest among non-Rabhas like Garos, immigrant Muslims and others, who have even called for bandh and protest marches in opposition.

The All Rabha Students’ Union (ARSU) has claimed thus: “Illegal migrants have incited the Garo-Rabha clashes in Meghalaya and Assam areas with an eye to oust the Garos and Rabhas from the lucrative rubber plantations they have developed and also from their fertile plots of land. These migrants are the third party and they are provided all possible protection by the State administration.” ARSU leaders have further alleged that the ‘‘local administration is too scared of taking any step against the leaders of these illegal migrants some of whom are leading the ruling Congress party’s local units’’.

The ARSU and Sixth Schedule Demand Committee members have also alleged that the Congress-led governments in both the States are also ‘‘patronizing the Garo-Rabha clashes with the view to frustrate the Six Schedule demand of the Rabhas. They have also turned a blind eye to the fact that the surrendered militants of the Garo militant outfit ANVC are leading the attacks against the Rabha villagers in East Garo Hills District’’. This accusation of militants’ involvement in the attacks against the Rabhas is also made by the GRPC as indicated earlier.

During the first few days of the ethnic clashes, there was total failure of the administration in containing the law-and-order problem as well as of the governments of both the States in dealing with the dangerous situation firmly and also in apprehending the ring leaders of rioters. There was also failure in organizing speedy rescue-and-relief operations. There are also allegations against the local/district administration of not taking immediate actions to stop the rioters from committing the mayhem, either due to connivance or incompetence. The Union Home Minister had to ask the governments of both the Congress-ruled States to organize ‘‘joint patrolling’’ and formulate ‘‘joint strategies’’ to deal with the situation effectively and quell the violence and also to bring the perpetrators to book; but this advice was not acted upon with the promptitude it deserved.

In view of a number of conflicting factors and also the alleged nexus among the Church, militant outfits, Bangladeshi Muslims (illegal immigrants) and political leaders across party lines, as well as the dubious role of some NGOs as brought out in the GRPC’s memorandum to the Prime Minister, a thorough probe into the clashes by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is called for. Simultaneously, all possible measures need to be taken by the Centre and the two States to bring solace to, and adequately rehabilitate, the displaced families.

JP Rajkhowa

(The writer is a former Chief Secretary, Assam)


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