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Time to protest is here again

By HH Mohrmen

Why is it that the election in the state is always preceded by protests? Is there any connection between the two? Or is it sheer coincidence that Meghalaya is now going to experience a numbers of protests and agitations organized by various NGOs and even by individuals and politicians? What is the reason behind the unexpected resurgence of protests and agitations during pre-election time?

The question with regards to the inter-state border dispute is; is it because of the Government’s lackadaisical attitude towards tackling vital issues which has been the bone of contention between Assam and Meghalaya for more than four decades now? And in matters relating to People with Disabilities, could it also be because of Government’s insensitive attitude towards the plight of the PWDs that the Government has time and again failed in its duty to provide PWDs their rights? What about the non-native voters’ enrolment process? What has the committee constituted to look into the matter done so far? Has it been able to come up with suggestion(s) to address the issues raised by the NGOs?

Last week, physically challenge people protested against the government’s attitude towards their problem, by taking to the streets in the State capital. If this State still has a soul, the protest whereby physically challenged people literarily took to the streets, should make this Government ashamed of its failure to address the problem of this very vulnerable section of the society. The photograph on the front-page of many newspapers of physically challenged citizens of this state crawling and walking with crutches, sticks and on wheelchairs in the streets of Shillong will be one image that will remain in public memory for a very long time. Many had tears welling in their eyes; others wept to see the plight of the disabled. It pains the heart to see PWDs march in protest for what is rightfully theirs. Why did they have to take to the streets to demand their rights? The Government should treat this section of the society with special care and see that rights and privileges due to them are fulfilled. But this is easier said than done. It takes days for PWDs to even get their identity cards and they have to move from pillar to posts to even get one (this is from a person who has helped people with disability get their ID). Then another vital question is how many PWDs are registered and how many of them are yet to be properly registered and provided with identity cards? Then there are government schemes or loans from the bank which is supposed to help PWDs gain employment, but it will be interesting if the Government tries to collect information of how many PWDs avail the loan? I tried helping 2 PWDs to avail loans from the bank, but had to abandon the idea when the bank asked them to provide names of government employees who are willing to stand surety for them. How many people in the village have relatives working in the Government? If the Government really wants to help PWDs, it should do away with the section on the form which has to do with the need of a guarantor for them to avail a loan. Why can’t the government stand surety for them? This column has highlighted the Government’s approach towards people with disability when the State Government did not even recognize Bertha Dkhar’s achievements of putting the Khasi alphabets in Braille.

The Assam-Meghalaya border dispute is an issue which is as old as the State itself. The issue known to the people as Block I and Block II has been hanging in the balance for so long. Politicians come and go and in Jaintia hills their brag of breaking the 12 machines lock (tala khat-ar kor) or solving the border disputes are but clanging of the cymbals. At one point of time certain politicians went to Khainduli/Khanduli and dismantled the border pillar put up by the then Assam government and brought a piece of the pillar to Jowai. A public meeting was held in the evening at the Loompyrdi Yongpiah hall and after the meeting the piece was left in the hall and the people of Jowai jokingly said that Assam-border with Meghalaya now starts from Loompyrdi Yongpiah hall. Is the boundary dispute with Assam again going to be an election gimmick which will provide politicians with an opportunity to shout empty rhetoric and fool the people once again? Many protests and agitations have been organized by various NGOs to demand that the Government solve this long pending problem; but so far no Government has been able to do so.

The Congress party in the state has once again missed the opportunity to solve the interstate border problem once and for all by not being able to capitalise on the rare occasion when the same party is in power in the two contending states and in Delhi. But perhaps the Congress does not want to solve the boundary dispute with Assam. It remains to be seen whether the planned agitation by the NGOs and individuals will be able to pressure the government to solve the boundary dispute, and another pertinent question is; does this government still have the time on its side to address the issue before the State goes to polls in 2013? The threat made by a young man from the Langpih area to take the recourse of fast unto death from June 30 onwards to pressure the State Government to come up with solutions to the problem is something that the Government has to take into consideration and cannot simply brush aside as a non issue.

The threat of the NGOs protest against the enumeration of doubtful voters in the state electoral roll also looms large over the state’s skyline. The Government is in a Catch-22 situation; whichever decision the Government makes is not going to be an easy one. If the government tries to please the NGOs, then it has to be against the election rules and vice versa.

But there is a silver lining in the dark sky. In spite of the threat of protests and agitations in the state, the people of Meghalaya can find consolation in the fact that the kinds of agitation the protestors have in the pipeline are not going to be the usual strike which hits the poor section of the society the hardest. The lone agitator on the Langpih issue plans to protest by going on a fast unto death; this is an honourable protest which will not affect the people in general. Then the protest planned by the NGOs and some individuals against the government’s failure to come up with solution to the vexed non-native voter’s enrolment process is also not going to affect the movement of the public as such. Are we seeing a change in the kinds of agitations that NGOs organize? If this is the shape of things to come then may be bandhs, road blockades, picketing are now consigned to the history books and the NGOs are embarking on new methods of agitations which are not going to affect the general public.

Whatever protest or strikes lined up for the state will definitely give the powers that be more sleepless nights. And can the protests and strike impact the prospects of the parties in power in the ensuing general election to the State assembly? Does election and pre-election protests have any connection?

(The author is a Jowai-based researcher and environmental activist)

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