TURA, Jan 9 � The demand note menace has been an all pervading event in the Garo Hills region, with virtually everyone coming under its purview, of late. The situation was not the same earlier, but the changing times seem to have altered the concept of money collection of the groups. The change in the situation has evolved through the years and now has become a bane for not only those with the ability to pay, but also those that don�t.
The �demand note� was originally served to those that had the ability to pay for the maintenance of the militant groups in their fight for a Garoland State. They would not only take from the rich, but even gave back to the poor, making them heroes in the eyes of some people. With time, the concept changed to keeping the money to themselves and the Good Samaritan play ended.
After ceasefire, the peace process began, leaving quite a few disgruntled youths in the camps, with a stipend paid by the government. This led to a lot of disgruntlement as some of the militants grew rich while others lagged behind. The third outfit to be formed after the ALMA, LAEF was initiated by the now GNLA C-in-C, Sohan D Shira. With its formation, the whole concept of demand notes began to evolve, with the target base increasing to those who could not afford the demands made by the group.
The art culminated with the formation of the GNLA. Their coming into the picture put everything at risk. While, Sohan had been a vital cog in the scheme of things for the ANVC, GNLA became the high point. The group now took on every comer in the State, targeting everyone it could find in its path. If you have an income, no matter how small, you are a target. Politicians too became targets.
No block office in the region has been spared the diktat. The Samanda block, East Garo Hills was served a demand note of Rs 80 lakhs, following which most staff stayed away from the office. The ANVC (B) has not been a mute spectator in the whole story, with towns and villages under their �jurisdiction� being their targets. Archery counters, meat shops, other establishments pay on a monthly basis if they want to continue their businesses.
According to experts, most of the problems in the region are due to under development. A senior police official commented on how recruitments are made for militant organisations. He said, �At first, it is a give free scene, with groups visiting villagers and giving them money for daily use. They then begin by asking for small favours like medicine, food, etc; which the villagers very willingly give.
Slowly money given to the villagers decreases, but the favours sought become bigger, like sheltering of militants. The next step is to keep vigil for the group and in the end the villagers are given direct membership. The fact remains that once you have taken money from them, there is no way they are not going to ask you for repayment. This puts the the villagers in direct conflict with the police. Their option now is either join the group, or get caught by the police.
The scenario in small villages, which have no direct connection to development, the recruitment becomes easy. It is not difficult to lure the youth with the retoric of underdevelopment and the riches that militancy promises. Vulnerable sections then become the demand note bearers and collectors for the group and even shelter the fleeing militants.
According to sources, the current membership of the GNLA stands at about 200, however, the number of overground workers is unknown. They help the various groups in information collection, phone calls and in serving demand note, besides as money couriers. While a lot of them have been caught, many more keep surfacing with the outfits staying one step ahead in recruitment.