Tura, Aug. 16: At least 2,000 people joined the SBI employees’ rally today here to show their solidarity seeking the release of their colleague Subodh Kumar Mishra, who was abducted at gunpoint from Gasuapara in South Garo Hills on August 5.
The bank employees union has decided to continue their indefinite strike across Garo hills, except in five of its branches, which will remain open in Tura from Monday. The bank has 41 branches spread across five districts of Garo hills in Meghalaya.
The silent rally began at 2.30pm from Chandmari branch and passed through the main thoroughfares of the town. The rally saw the participation of employees of other banks, senior citizens, church leaders, Mother’s Union, Tura Government College Students’ Union, Garo Students Union, A’chik Youth Welfare Society and activists of National People’s Party and Youth Congress.
The closure of the bank for the past week has crippled the region. The banks were open on Thursday and today, which brought temporary relief to the people. “We had to stand in a long queue for almost two hours today to withdraw money from the SBI ATMs. We express our solidarity with the bank and support their strike,” said Roshan Sangma, a college student.
“We have continued our search operation for the last 10 days but we have not made any headway,” said Lakador Syiem, superintendent of police, South Garo Hills. Mishra’s abductor, who had reduced their demand from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 lakh, has made fresh demand for Rs 50 lakh.
“We are scared to go to the bank in the remote areas and work. If the situation continues, we will have no other option but to leave Garo hills,” said an agitated bank official.
Another bank official said, “We are demoralised with the deplorable law and order situation. We are here to serve the people. If bank employees are targeted by militant outfits time and again, how can we work?”
Kidnapping and killing has been on the rise in Garo hills. On Tuesday, a petrol pump employee was shot dead on the outskirts of Tura, which prompted closure of petrol pumps across Garo hills. Few pumps were opened today, which saw a heavy rush. Customers had to line up for several hours to get fuel, which had a limit of five litres for light motor vehicles and three litres for two-wheelers.
“We condemn the kidnapping of SBI employees and cold blooded murder of petrol pump employees. Everyone should condemn the barbaric act of the militants. We don’t want our future to be filled with the fear that any moment we might be dead if we step out. Instead of trying to tear apart our land, we should educate our young ones,” said Richeart Marak, an activist of the youth Congress.
He added, “If we are so worried about our culture being lost, we should teach our children our past, achievements, language and culture. Most of all, we should teach our children and ourselves the dignity of labour. Isolation will never help us grow. It will restrict horizons thereby stunting our growth in all areas.”
Urging all concerned not to politicise the issue, Marak said, “The issue of Garoland should not be used to play with the sentiments of the people, to create unrest and uncertainty. It is everyone’s collective responsibility to bring peace. Only the police and government are not responsible.”
Meghalaya police yesterday arrested Yakub Ali alias Bhola from Sarangma, near Dainadubi in North Garo Hills. Police said Ali is associated with the NDFB and the key suspect in the shootout at a petrol pump in North Garo Hills district on July 1. Police said that the group also uses the name of Liberation of AchikElite Force (LAEF) and served demand notes in parts of North Garo Hills.