The Fight for Garo

NAT

As Meghalaya votes on February 23, Esha Roy travels to Garo Hills, one of the most backward regions of the state that sees a heady mix of militancy and political bickering

Garo Hills is one of the remotest areas of Meghalaya. Folds of dark, densely forested ranges lie languorously across the region that's crisscrossed by sparkling streams. The population here is sparse and villages lie scattered across the hills. The roads are largely dust tracks lined with bamboo huts.

As Meghalaya hastens toward February 23, when its 345 candidates will fight from 60 assembly constituencies spanning the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hill ranges, this seemingly idyllic landscape of Garo with its five districts is where the action is—with some of the most high-profile candidates and the lurking fear of militancy.

The assembly constituency of Gambegre in West Garo Hills district borrows its name from a cluster of 50-odd huts on the top of one of these hills. The state transport bus arrives in the constituency once every few hours to ferry people to the district headquarters of Tura which houses its educational institutions and rudimentary medical care.

Perison Sangma, 58, is a cashew nut farmer, one of the most common professions in Gambegre and the larger Garo region. He is careful not to talk politics. That's not something that is openly discussed in the village—insurgents of the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) are always lurking about, he says. GNLA started out as a radical outfit that called for the creation of a separate Garo state, but like most underground militant groups, it has ended up being seen as a bunch of extortionists.

Perison, however, is happy to talk about his crop. "Earlier, we used to get Rs 25 for every 10 kg of cashewnuts; now we get a lot lesser. This area is dry. We have been asking the government to help us with Ranney wells and irrigation but nothing has been done so far,'' he says.

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