Gun violence reopens old wounds in Meghalaya following the Mukroh firing

Skhem Sten, 43, has lost all hope in Mukroh village, Meghalaya. The wife of a 60-year-old Assam Police officer, Thal Shabat, says, “I don’t know what to do.”.

Despite six people being killed in Tuesday’s Mukroh firing, Skhem saw this incident as more than just a border conflict between two states. A shooting incident, purportedly committed by an armed insurgent, claimed her brother Dia twenty years ago. The same fate befell her husband twenty years later.

According to Skhem, the couple heard gunshots around 7 am on Tuesday as they walked to the paddy field. The two got separated as they hurried into the forest to hide. My husband was lying in a pool of blood when I came out after half an hour. A few other people surrounded his body, and there were a few other bodies lying around,” Skhem says.

Skhem says the couple heard gunshots around 7 am on Tuesday as they left their hut to work in the paddy field. (Deccan Photo)

Skhem, who has six members in her family, including five children, says that since her late husband was the leading provider for her family, she has no idea how to handle it. “We work on farmlands that are not ours. As wage workers, we earn a living. A daily wage worker, my elder son, earns a minimal income, but work is scarce. It’s hard for me to know what to do. It’s hopeless for me,” she says.

Assam and Meghalaya governments announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the deceased’s next of kin. Skhem says that while the compensation will provide some support, it will not return the deceased.

Skhem, who witnessed the boundary dispute between Assam and Meghalaya, says peace must be assured at all costs. Assam has had a border outpost in the area for years, but Meghalaya has only a small police force in the area, she says.

58-year-old Bianda Shadap, Skhem’s neighbour, pities the fatherless children and worries about their care. According to Bianda, Skhem’s family is afraid to return to the paddy fields because Assam Police personnel might punish them.

In the meantime, we still fear because of the boundary dispute. It will finally be resolved, and the fear will vanish. Bianda says that such things should not be repeated.

There is a common refrain: ‘We live in fear.

Other bereaved families in the village shared more or less the same experience.

She has three daughters and two sons who all work on other people’s farms, including her husband Sik Talang, 53, who was killed in Mukroh. “We are afraid of going out to the fields and forests, but we must do so for sustenance. It is not new for violence to occur in border areas. My husband was beaten by the Assam Police last year when he tried to till his land.” she says.

Tloda demanded answers about who killed her husband, even though she had to raise her grandchildren.

The firing began suddenly when Nitawan Dahar, 33, ’s husband Shirup Dahar, 39, spotted a gathering on the way to work in the field. My mind is blank. I don’t know what happened. He went to work, and I later found out he had been shot. My husband was indeed not there to protest, she said, adding that she does not require blood money.

When Shirup Dahar, 39, saw a gathering, he stopped working in the field and started firing. It all began suddenly, says Nitawan Dahar, 33. (Deccan Photo)

Her family has seven members, including four daughters and two sons. The youngest of her three children is only three years old, and her husband is the breadwinner.

Tal Nartiang, 42, was killed in the shooting by Rilif Nartiang, 39. There are seven members in Tal’s family. From her own house in Jowai, Rilif visited Tal’s family, saying she wanted to see Assam Police personnel imprisoned for life without receiving blood money.

Assam Police bullets killed Nikhasi Dhar, 60, along with five others from Mukroh village. Despite her 48 years, Klan Thawa, his wife, still doesn’t understand why he died. His death occurred a few hours after he stepped out to work in the morning. His body was not allowed to be seen on the spot, and Nikhasi had to visit Ialong Civil Hospital in Jowai hours later to see it. Despite needing compensation for her husband, she demanded action against all errant Assam Police officials who shot the villagers.

It is common in the area during harvest season for boundary conflicts between villagers and Assam forest and police officials, according to Nikhasi’s cousin Gilbert Sten, 60. Still, Nikhasi’s brother Chilangki Thawa, 37, believes money cannot buy someone’s life. “We want support from both the states to survive. We want all the help we can get,” says Chilangki.

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