I was born in the lush green landscape of Haflong. It is, therefore, natural that I have had an everlasting bond with nature – the proud mountains, the chaste springs and the serpentine rivers running all along the valley. The air would be fragrant with the aroma of wild orchids abundantly available in the almost untrodden hills. I grew up in that healthy air; never ever imagining in my wildest nightmares that its sanctimonious air would one day turn foul.
Haflong was a cosmopolitan hub with just one harmonious society. Being a small town, everyone knew each other by name. It seemed like a huge family. Everyone was part of the other’s celebrations, religious rites, and the joys and sorrows.
I consider myself very fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience the characteristics of the primal innocence and the sacred God-nature-man relationships of the tribal society. I got to witness their customs, traditions and cultures from a close proximity.
In fact, some of our own cultures got influenced by their traditions. The Dimasas, the Nagas, the Kukis, the Hmars, the Vaipheis, the Khasis – each had a unique culture, but our daily chores had a little bit of everyone. It was a cultural assimilation and none practically seemed to have a different identity.
But I was born in the transition period. I saw the society change right in front of my eyes.
By the age of 15, Haflong turned out to be a battlefield – everyone waging a war in the name of fighting for identity. Each started yearning for a separate homeland.
I saw the intrusion of the NSCN, the birth of the DHD and may others followed suit. I lost many of my friends – they turned warriors. Their nimble hands chose the gun instead of the pen.
The red glow of the sun on the crystal clear waters that once inspired poetic outpour, now symbolised blood. No one knows how many were dubbed martyrs of the war and how many had to embrace the bullets of the war. Brothers now turned rivals.
Yet, miraculously, life had a charm. The fresh breeze would boost the spirit to face the new day after every night of bereavement. But none seemed to acknowledge the pristine Haflongite identity that we were losing in the name of cutting an identity for the clan.
The Dimasas demanded Dimarazi (the land of Dimasas) whereas the Nagas demanded Nagalim (the land of Nagas) comprising a part of the same territory. Thus began an array of fatricidal clashes among the borthers-in-arms.
Yet, unbelievably, the NSCN were still training the Dimasa youth in the art of warfare and also supplying arms and ammunitions. And each cried war!
I failed to trace reason in the policy of training an opponent; except for this whole episode being the easiest way to earn money by terrorising people.
Gradually, I got introduced to the term called ‘dominance’. I was made to realise that it was a tribal-dominated area and the non-tribals ought to be lower in the fight of might. The reason, they claimed, was that the non-tribals had long exploited the innocent tribals. I donot know if there is truth in it – but indeed, the tribals were very innocent at heart, and could have been exploited by some unscrupulous guys.
But life was getting harsher with every passing day. Whoever dared to refuse to pay heed to the extortion note would end up in a pool of blood. Some dared still, and survived too, but had to leave the place stealthily for life. Others paid to buy a day of their life.
The scale of extortions increased by leaps and bounds, and by the time I reached my tenth standard, people had to pay “taxes” to atleast two outfits. A fixed percentage would be cut at-source from the monthly salaries – that was the price you paid for buying security of your life for a month from the warriors.
But after paying this, there would yet another impending threat – to keep all traces away from the security forces who often reached the spot only after the militants had left the place with the money, and arrested the payer instead on charges of aiding the militants.
In some instances, when a person would inform the security forces about the extortion demand, the militants would at times be apprehended by laying a trap but the informer had to run for life; for a bullet of the outfit would have his name. We lived like cowards.
Our smiles lost the warmth. We smiled only to make believe that we were happy.
Once my family spent an entire night in the corridor leading to the washroom – the rest of the house faced the wrath of bullets. Worst of all, those bullets were not of the outfits but of the security forces.
Many personnels of the then deployed Punjab Police were killed in an ambush a few kilometres away from town. When the news reached the base of the security forces, they turned violent – ransacked shops in the markets, man-handled civilians – men and women alike. But the night held more terror.
The police station was abandoned after facing the wrath of the bullets of the infuriated forces. Our house was only a few steps away from the base, and bullets kept piercing the walls of every room. The corridor was the only safe hide.
We spent a night of terror, but survived without any harm, except for a burn on my Dad’s chest from the splinter of a bullet. An indefinite curfew was declared the following day.
Our neighbours started leaving for safer places, but we did not wish to leave our home. There were even more frightening news in the air. Allegedly many girls were raped that night.
After two days, we too opted to shift to our uncle’s place in the same town, a little further from the base of the security forces. But terror prevailed everywhere.
Things improved or worsened without any indication – years passed by – we got adapted to the life amid terror. The worst factor was that the people of Haflong did not have any experience of terrorism earlier.
It was the year 2000, Dad retired from service as the Principal of Haflong Boys’ Higher Secondary School. He had served the education department throughout his working life. His contributions were duly acknowledged. He received citation and awards from various departments.
But the place started losing the hometown charm for him. He made up his mind that he could not stay any longer in that place and accept the harsh truth in silence.
Our land was sold-off along with the house, and we shifted to Silchar. That was our new home-town. Ofcourse, then I was staying at Guwahati for my graduation. Dad, Mom and my elder brother stayed at Silchar; I visited ocassionally. I still happen to involuntarily refer to Haflong as my hometown.
Work took me to various places but I missed Haflong every day. Only if the place would turn peaceful once again. I know it will; it has to – but when? I want the change soon!