Fear and hope in Meghalaya’s relief campsJanuary 13th, 2011 - 5:31 pm ICT by IANS
By Raymond Kharmujai
Mendipathar (Meghalaya), Jan 13 (IANS) Pijosh Momin, 54, a Garo tribal leader, wants to return to his ancestral home in Bherabari village in Assam’s Goalapara district. He has been at a relief camp in Meghalaya’s East Garo Hills district for over a week. But he is in two minds, for now. Likewise, Uttama Khanda, an engineering student from the Rabha community, is also unsure of returning home. She feels that tension still looms in the minds of Garos and Rabhas, the two clashing tribes.
Ten people have so far been killed and scores injured in ethnic clashes that began on New Year’s day. Nearly 50,000 people were displaced from their homes and are staying in relief camps in Assam and Meghalaya.
Momin talked while having dinner with other inmates in Dilmaapal relief camp, about three kilometres inside Meghalaya’s border with Assam. “Some Rabha youths burnt down my house at Bherabari. But, whatever, I am eager to go back there and put things in order.”
“We have been living together as brothers and sisters for ages, but I am sad that all of us are refugees in our own land - be it from Assam or Meghalaya.”
Erina N. Marak, sitting near a bonfire, recalled the Jan 5 night when a group of Rabha tribesmen came and attacked her house in Bherabari.
“It was at around 1 a.m. A group of 20 Rabha youth fired and killed Silsong Marak in our village and it was a narrow escape for us,” Marak, a housewife, sobbed.
“We will go back when the situation returns to normal,” she said.
At Mendipathar College, which has been turned into a relief camp for 1,042 Rabha tribe families, most inmates are still unsure of returning to their ancestral places soon.
“Most of us still feel threatened and we have decided not to leave the (relief) camp till we are assured of security,” James Pam, a Rabha school teacher, said.
Nobo, an elderly Rabha from Thapa village in East Garo Hills, said: “We don’t know what has really sparked off such a major conflict. I think we (Garos and Rabhas) should sit together and sort out our grievances.”
Central Reserve Police Force Deputy Inspector General B. Sengupta, who is camping in the area to control the law and order situation, said normalcy is slowly returning, but people are still in fear. It will surely take some time to instil confidence in their minds.
“With peace committees having been set up from both the tribes, we are hoping that normalcy will return and both communities will stay together,” Sengupta said.
The Meghalaya government has offered relief packages, including a compensation of Rs.3 lakh to the next of kin of each of those killed and Rs.10,000 to each of the displaced families. The government has also offered to bear the expenses of treatment for the injured.
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Tags: ancestral home, assam, bonfire, brothers and sisters, conflic, east garo hills, engineering student, erina, ethnic clashes, garo hills district, garos, inmates, kilometres, momin, narrow escape, relief camps, returning home, school teacher, tribal leader, tribesmen