Silonijaan (Karbi Anglong), Jan. 12: Rupson Hanse does not want bright sunshine though the mercury dipped to 11 degrees Celsius here this morning.
Sunshine has worried the 25-year-old Karbi youth since he and his family fled their village Maigaon on December 28 and took shelter at the Silonijaan Government LP School relief camp here.
“If the sun shines bright, oranges will rot fast and the chillies will ripen and fall too. The paddy which we left in our fields will also get damaged,” Hanse said, looking at camp-in-charge Anjan Borgohain and eager to know if things were normal back in Maigaon, about 35km away.
Rupson and eight of his family members fled after suspected militants of the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT) shot dead four Rengma Nagas at Khowanigaon village, about 5km from his village, before clashing with the militant Naga Rengma Hills Protection Force (NRHPF). Two KPLT cadres died in the clash between the two outfits.
“Last year, we earned Rs 15,000 by selling oranges. But this year, I had sold only Rs 2,000 worth of oranges when the tension started. Oranges are rotting in our three-bigha orchard. Half of the paddy which we cultivated this time is still in the fields and the cattle might have destroyed it all by now,” Rupson told this correspondent on the school campus where altogether 305 Karbis from Maigaon, Lakhiram, Lakhan Hanse, Oklangchar and Nambor villages are camping since the militant attacks.
Only 15 from Nambor have returned to their homes. The rest are scared to go back, fearing attacks by the NRHPF.
The recent violence in Karbi Anglong has not just created a sense of fear among Karbi and Rengma Naga villagers but has also dealt a blow to their economy. It has left over 3,000 people, mostly farmers, homeless. The tension deepened after the bodies of nine Karbi youths, gunned down near Dimapur in neighbouring Nagaland on December 28, were found on January 4.
Rupson’s neighbour Ratna Teron is equally worried about the crops on his eight bighas of land that he left behind as he ran for life.
“I had earned Rs 80,000 (from chillies) last year. I came to know that miscreants had already destroyed my crops. I was supposed to get at least 24 quintals of paddy this time. I don’t know how I will run my family this year,” asked Teron.
Similar concerns hound the 1,054 inmates, mostly Rengma Nagas from six villages, of Borpothar High School relief camp, about 2km away.
Giren Rengma of Phansaraf village, close to Khowanigaon, said goons had destroyed his 12 bighas of paddy (about 40 quintals) after he and about 30 families left the village after the December 27 attack.
Satu Rengma of Khownigaon village said, “I wanted to renovate my house after selling paddy this time. But the violence has destroyed everything”.
Sarah Phangchopi, a young peace activist based at Diphu, the district headquarters, about 220km from Guwahati, said the frequent conflicts in the district had badly affected the economy.
“Most of the ethnic conflicts have taken place during the harvesting season. The compensation paid by the government is not enough to restore the victims’ economic status. It really pains to see families who own hectares of land work as daily labourers in other’s paddy fields,” she said.
Police officials in the district said militant groups like the KPLT and NRHPF have always extorted money from villagers with threats of attack during the harvesting season. “As cultivation is their only source of livelihood, the villagers have no option but to pay them (militants) to save their crops,” a police official said.
Militants also collect money from traders who clandestinely sell limestone, timber, iron ore, rubber, among others, a source said.
The Karbi Anglong district administration today said the process to send the Rengma Naga and Karbi villagers taking shelter in relief camps back to their homes will begin tomorrow. There are 3,131 people taking shelter in nine relief camps. Meanwhile, Karbi Anglong superintend of police Mugdha Jyoti Mahanta said the arrested KPLT “corporal” Sarhon Teron today led the police to recreate the crime scene of the Khowanigaon attack. “The crime scene was recreated the probe team,” Mahanta said.
Teron, 23, was arrested on Thursday. So far, 24 members of KPLT and NRHPF have been arrested in connection with the attack.