Assam, Meghalaya fight over forgotten village

June 10th, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Langpih (Assam), June 10 (IANS) Assam and Meghalaya are locked in a bitter border row with the two states adopting a belligerent posture over a small village where people still lead a primitive life, cut off from modern civilization. Until recently, nobody had perhaps heard of Langpih, a narrow strip of land that is home to about a 1,000 people belonging to diverse communities like tribal Khasis, Nepalese, Garos, and even Assamese. Langpih is about 100 km from Assam’s main city of Guwahati and is located on the border with Meghalaya.

There were no roads leading to Langpih and villagers were forced to trek for at least four to five hours to reach the first accessible point. Healthcare facilities and schools were a distant dream with people forced to carry patients on their backs to the nearest health centre, entailing about six to seven hours of walking through rough mountainous terrain.

But nobody bothered about Langpih till the Assam government sent an official team to visit the area earlier this year.

“Many of the villagers saw vehicles for the first time when we visited the place in January. We held a meeting with the locals and tried taking up development measures on a priority basis,” R.C. Jain, district magistrate of Kamrup Rural district, told IANS.

It was after the visit by the Assam team that Langpih caught the attention of the Meghalaya government, which immediately registered a protest claiming that Langpih falls in that state.

A war of statements between the two state government’s was continuing when last week Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma made history of sorts by becoming the first government legislator to visit the village - literally trekking and driving over a makeshift road.

The mood at Langpih was festive and the villagers had every reason to be happy since the minister laid the foundation stone of a primary health centre, besides creating a police outpost.

“We never thought that in our lifetime we would be able to see benefits of modern civilisation or get healthcare facilities here. We are happy that after 60 years of independence we are likely to have a health centre here,” said Ramesh Gurung, a community leader.

While the villagers were still rejoicing, the Meghalaya government took a confrontationist attitude by threatening to uproot the foundation stone of the health centre and the police outpost set up by Assam.

“Langpih belongs to us and we shall not tolerate any attempt by Assam to usurp our land,” thundered Meghalaya Chief Minister Donkupar Roy.

The situation reached such a pass that the two states have decided on a chief ministerial meeting Wednesday in Guwahati to discuss the border dispute.

“Langpih is non-negotiable and we shall not raise this issue during the meeting,” the Assam health minister said.

Even as the two states are engaged in a bitter war of words, the people of Langpih are not amused.

“Why are the government’s fighting with each other now? What have they done for us in the last 60 years? Now if Assam is willing to help us why should Meghalaya oppose,” asked a village elder.

He suggested: “The two states should take up development work for the sake of humanity instead of fighting each other.”

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