Tura, Feb. 27: The Garos living in Assam’s Kamrup and Goalpara districts have stepped up their demand for an autonomous council. The Garo National Union has threatened to boycott the Lok Sabha election if the demand is not met.
The pro-vice-chancellor of ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India) University, Meghalaya, Milton Sangma, who is also a Garo activist, said, “We will serve an ultimatum to the Assam government to address our demands within a limited time frame. If they fail to adhere, we will resort to agitation.”
He said the Garos in Assam felt cheated as chief minister Tarun Gogoi had failed to keep his word. “Gogoi had assured us that the Garos deserve a council and now the government is contemplating a Garo development corporation. We will never accept this,” Sangma said.
The Garo organisations in the two districts of Assam have been holding a series of meetings to chalk out their future course of action. They have sought an audience with Gogoi and are waiting for an appointment.
“The demand for a separate council for the Garos is a long-felt need of the people. At all cost, we will stick to our demands. If Tarun Gogoi fails to give us an assurance, we will boycott the Lok Sabha election in Kamrup and Goalpara,” Sangma said.
The Garo National Union is demanding the creation of a separate council by including the Garo-dominated villages, numbering about 390, of Kamrup and Goalpara districts.
At present, the areas fall under the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC).
“Garos are socially and economically deprived of government benefits. It is high time the government considers our demand seriously,” Sangma said, adding that the demand for a council was raised in 2004, a year after the Garos were accorded ST status.
In last year’s Rabha council election, the area witnessed protests and agitation by the Garos. “We are not against anybody. We only want our demand to be given due consideration,” Sangma said.
In Meghalaya, militant outfits are demanding creation of a separate homeland for the Garos that included the Garo-dominated areas of Assam. Assam-based Garo organisations are, however, opposed to this idea.
The A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), which is holding peace parleys with the government, had demanded inclusion of Assam villages in their proposed “Garoland”. However, they scaled down their demand after the “agreed text of settlement” was inked on January 5, 2013.
The Garos were granted the Scheduled Tribe (Plains) status in 2002.
They have a population of around three lakhs in Kamrup and Goalpara districts and about six lakhs in Assam. Garo language was recognised by the British government in 1923.
Sangma said: “A Garo autonomous council is the need as the customs, culture and identity of the tribe have to be protected.”
The union has based its demand on the premises that the community, despite being a major indigenous group of the state, has been treated unequally compared to groups such as Rabha Hasong, Tiwa, Mising, Sonowal Kachari, Deori and Thengal Kachari who have their own autonomous councils.