Friday, July 23, 2010

Border Dispute: Doctor Mukul Sangma’s wrong Diagnosis

Doctor Mukul Sangma very unfortunately inherited a thorny seat from his predecessor and the issue that demanded his attention most is perhaps the border conflict both international and interstate. A medicine man by qualification (by mistake) and a politician by choice, Dr. Sangma’s arrival on the scene as the chief minister of the state during the ill-timed period was in a way a blessing in disguise, his earnest desire to solve the problem has earned him sympathy from the people, the NGOs and even media are willing to give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, the layman in the street who depends on the NGOs and Press to formulate their opinion also saw his sincerity and his willingness to walk an extra mile to solve the border problems. Good going doctor, so far so good.

The good doctor may show his utmost sincerity in his effort to solve the border problem, but unfortunately his good efforts seem to go waste. The border dispute both interstate and international seems to go from bad to worse every passing day. One would expect a person trained in medicine to conduct a proper examination and order for a thorough and proper investigation before one would arrive at a conclusion and diagnose the cause of the problem. But the doctor seems to loss all the credentials that he had earned spending more than five years of his life in med school. Dr. Sangma is becoming a hundred percent politician and right now; like any of his predecessors, he does not seems to have any remedy under his sleeve to solve the problem.

Of course the long pending border dispute is a complex subject; but perhaps a little background information about the conflict in Jaintia hills will throw some light; at least, the dispute on this side of the state. I frequently visit the conflict zones both in peace time and otherwise. With regards to the dispute in the Muktapur sector of the indo-bangla border, a suggestion was made that the only solution to the problem is for the government to compensate the people for the land they owned which falls under adverse position. I have a reason for that and my recent visit and meeting with some of the land owners confirmed my theory that the only way to silence the gun in Muktapur is compensation. The cause of the problem is; when ever Indians tries to plough their fields (recent incident) or catch fishes from the pond in the adverse position (previous incident), the BGB resorted to firing in the air to stop the Indian from doing what they use to do. Some may argue that Bangladesh should maintain status quo and let farmer farm in the fields which lies in the adverse position. In my opinion; that is just wishful thinking. How long has the status quo been maintained and what status quo? After independence it was Indo-Pak border and now it has become Indo-Bangla border, what status quo are we talking about here? Is it a status quo with Pakistan or with Bangladesh ? Let us be realistic Dr. Sangma. The only solution at least on this sector of the border is to talk to prime minister and ask the Central Government to compensate the poor farmers for the land they are going to lose; because come what may, the BGB will never let the Indians carry out any activity in the land which they hold in adverse position. They deserve compensation because it is not their fault to keep holding the land. In fact it is the officials in government of India who gave them false hopes that status quo will be maintained and most of these lands have been registered in India . The Government of India is duty bound to compensate the farmer for this lost for no fault of theirs.

When it was reported in the press that Assam has started constructing road to connect Psiar, Khatksla and Moolaber, I said God bless their souls, the first thing the people of these area need is some motor-able road to connect their villages with the rest of the country be it Assam or Meghalaya. I am a frequent visitor to the area and I saw the kind of road; or to be honest the absent of any kind road to connect these villages. The three villages remain cut off from Meghalaya during the entire monsoon period because the bridge that the PWD department of Meghalaya has constructed on the Myntang River at Tihwieh which was sanctioned since 2004 is yet to be completed- trust Meghalaya to develop the border areas and it will take ages. The only connection that these people had with Meghalaya is the hanging footbridge across the same river. If our own department failed our people; can we blame Assam for doing what Meghalaya has failed to do so? The NGOs should take the PWD to task for taking more than five years to complete the crucial bridge.

Fellow Khasi Pnar can blame me for being soft or may be; even accused me of siding with Assam but I can help being pragmatic. The dispute area on Jaintia segment of the Assam-Meghalaya border which is also known as Block I and Block II has its genesis in the creation of the then Mikir and Cachar hills district. A commission was instituted to decide the boundary between the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills District and the new Mikir and Cachar hills district and the hope of the Pnar people to get back the land they claimed to belong to Jaintia hills lies on a thin thread of the so called note of dissent of one of the member of the Commission. Base on this lone dissent voice of late Larsing Khyriem MLA, a movement against the inclusion of some of the villages in the border with Mikir and Cachar hills district erupted and like any movement, this one too died a natural dead.

The main contention then; was that the villages, the rivers and the hills in the area bear a Khasi Pnar names, the rivers name is always prefixed with ‘um’ or villages with ‘nong’ so on and so forth and that majority of the people who live in these villages are Pnars. That is not true anymore, except for the three mentioned villages (Psiar, Moolaber and Khatkasal), the rest of the villages from Myngkoilum to Umkhyrmi and Jrikyndeng (now Zirikyndeng) are inhabited by the Karbis. It is rather unrealistic for Meghalaya to claim these villages because the majority of the people living in these villages are Karbis. It is also rather ironic that even the MDC who represents this area in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council is half Jaintia or half War Jaintia to be more specific; his mother is originally of the Khonglah clan. But in spite of all that, the villages from Myngkoilum onwards are now under the KAADC.

In conclusion, I think good sense has prevailed on the DC of Jaintia hills and his counterpart from Diphu that they had come to a sensible understanding. Isn’t it is rather awkward to fight for a piece of land when we are all but part of the same country? When border between countries in Europe has started to vanish, why are we beginning to build walls between us? The people of these interstate border villages need development and sadly; they are yet to have road or even electricity connection. It is the duty of the state (whatever that may be) to provide them at least their basic needs. It is also the moral obligation of the two neighbours to arrive at understanding and bring to an end this long pending imbroglio once and for all and not to create breeding ground for insurgency on both side of the divide. Let the people in the border live in peace.

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