Rengma refugees grow in number
DIMAPUR, JANUARY 2
ALMOST a week into the aftermath of the violent attack on Rengma Nagas on December 27 in Assam’s adjoining Karbi Anglong districrt, the number of refugees continues to grow in the Borpathar High School and nearby buildings under the Santipur PS. The rise in the number of refugees by the day, at least 824 villagers as of Thursday afternoon, is proportionate to the confusion and uncertainty that consumes the displaced and terrorized villagers each passing day.
On December 28 last, a day after the incident in which suspected Karbi Peoples’ Liberation Tiger (KPLT) militants killed four Rengma Nagas and burnt down their villages, newspaper reports had put the number of refugees at 205. The incident was also called as “sinister designs of ethnic cleansing”, by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.
On Thursday, the displaced villagers camped at Santipur were rightly concerned about “peace in the area” in the days to come and the possibilities of co-existence, once again. The formation of “peace committees”, to facilitate conducive atmosphere for peaceful co-existence between different communities, in the past have drawn a blank, lamented Barnobas Rengma.
A native of Panjam village, and displaced following the latest incident, the 57-year-old Barnobas said, “While the peace committee was being formed, they (perpetrators) sneaked into our villages and killed our people, burnt our villages.
“Now they are forming another peace committee. But there is no meaning in constituting a peace committee after the first one had failed. We don’t understand how they can think of bringing peace, while they are resorting to violence like this,” he said.
Rengma however explained that the Rengma people were in no way advocating or even contemplating violent retaliation. “Our people have been killed, villages and granaries reduced to ashes but till today we have not reacted violently against anyone. And we will never do so.”
He said that their only concern was how would they ever get back to their lost homes and reconstruct their already fractured lives, torn apart on the night of December 27 last.
Rengma also narrated that the trouble had started way back in June last year “when the Karbi militants asked the Rengma Nagas to leave their respective villages.” The subsequent exodus of the Rengma Nagas had resulted in the formation of the “Peace Committee which negotiated and settled the issue.”
The brokered “peace” lasted only till mid-November. On November 16 last, according to Rengma, suspected Karbi militants assaulted Rengma Nagas and even warned them that the Rengmas would be held responsible “if the army comes to the village.”
“The situation remained tense ever after and then the Rengmas were attacked, their houses and granaries burned down. There was a relaxation during Christmas, but after Christmas on December 27, villagers were attacked resulting in the killing of 3 persons, while houses and granaries were burnt down,” he narrated.
Rengma said that they had even sought security for the villagers by approaching the Karbi Anglong administration but to no avail. “Now sending troops after everything has been burnt and lost has no meaning,” he felt.
Elsewhere in Dimapur a group of Rengma leaders from the Citizen’s Rights Protection Council, the Western Rengma Baptist Association and other individuals met with representatives of the media, and the Human Rights Law Network . The parties were given a detailed genesis of the violence being played out in Karbi Anglong and the historical records of the Rengmas as fisrt settlers of the Rengma Hill areas now known as Karbi Anglong.
The group also voiced concern and suspicion that the creation of a Tiger Reserve within Rengma stronghold areas could also be an additional element which is adding fuel to the fire as the recent violence perpetuated appears bent on not just dispossessing the Rengmas of their land, hearth and home but also of their livelihood means. Reports are emerging of the total destruction of fields and granaries and the betenut, coconut trees and orange orchards of Rengma cultivators .
The Tiger Reserve is a concept the Rengmas and Karbis have been opposed to since the idea was mooted. But what has surprised the Rengmas is the alleged recent change of attitude amongst the Karbis towards the creation of the same.
The standoff has reached a point where even church leaders are unable to bring the communities to see eye to eye. So much so the Western Rengma Baptist Association have requested the Karbi Anglong Baptist Convention to meet the Karbi people and the WRBA will deal with the Rengmas.
The leaders have expressed concern over the continuing absence of security forces in four villages where Rengma villagers continue to reside without any electricity or mode of transport.
No one is being allowed to get or get out, they said from Phescherop, Jongoha, Khirang ot Choshenkary villages , they added.