Guwahati: Three Gorkha youths from Lampi area of Kamrup district on Thursday joined the mainstream, pledging a start life afresh, after years of being part of a relatively lesser-known militant outfit United Gorkha People’s Organisation (UGPO).
Shambhoo Chetri (34), Suman Sirish (30) and Khem Magar (22) were among the 169 United Gorkha People’s Organisation (UGPO) who surrendered and laid down arms before the Assam Chief Minister and police authorities at a formal surrender ceremony at Sankardev Kalakshetra on Thursday.
Formed in 2007, the UGPO has been mainly active in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Biswanath districts of Assam. The surrendered UGPO cadres hail from Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, Biswanath, Bongaigaon, Kamrup (Rural), Tinsukia, Dhemaji, Udalguri and Sonitpur districts.
Speaking exclusively to EastMojo after the ceremony, Chetri, the oldest among the trio who joined the militant outfit in 2011, said the key issues concerning the Gorkha community in Assam were land rights, voting rights and protection of their language.
“There were many issues related to our identity as a Gorkha community, and as such land rights, voting rights, language promotion were among the significant demands that led us to join the outfit,” he said, while recalling his days in the “jungle” in the erstwhile Bodoland Territorial Districts Area (BTAD) now Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and camps in Myanmar.
Welcoming the surrendered militants, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma urged the former cadres to engage in entrepreneurship and agriculture to lead a dignified life and make meaningful contributions to the state’s progress.
A resident of Lower Lampi, Chetri says he will now engage himself in farming apart from running a small shop in the area.
“As the chief minister has appealed to us in the programme today, we would like to engage in economic activities and self-employment ventures,” he says.
He, however, hoped that the ongoing Assam-Meghalaya border dispute resolution process would bear fruit, especially in regard to bringing development in the Lampi area, apart from harmony among the border residents, primarily comprising Gorkha and Khasi villagers.
Lampi (called Langpih in Meghalaya) along the Kamrup-West Khasi Hills boundary, one of disputed areas, has seen trouble brew more often than the other disputed border areas, including inter-community clashes back in 2010 and subsequent police firing, resulting in injuries and even fatalities.
“We want a transformation in Lampi. We want peace and progress to go hand in hand there. The Gorkha and Khasi communities along with the other communities in the area need to live in harmony,” Chetri said, adding that “our families and children are happy with the decision to join the mainstream”.
Sirish, who joined the outfit in 2014, and Magar, the youngest of the three, who joined in 2017, are residents of Makaibari in the Lampi area.
Both of them also want to engage in meaningful economic activities, in accordance with the chief minister’s appeal to leave the rebellion of the past and start an “economic revolution”.
Welcoming the development, Gobinda Sharma, general secretary of All Assam Gorkha Students Union, Kamrup district committee, told EastMojo that the surrender of the UGPO cadres would mark the beginning of a new chapter for the community in Assam.
“More than 650 Gorkha families are currently living across 13 villages in the Lampi area. So the resolve of these three Gorkha youths to make a new beginning will certainly inspire other youths besides making them do their bit for progress in the area. Lampi, as of now, lacks connectivity, be it transport or mobile telephony. We hope that the two states make a breakthrough, like in the six areas, in regard to Lampi in the coming days,” Sharma said.
In July last year, the Assam Cabinet had notified the Nepali Graziers and Cultivators’ mentioned in the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886, as “Gorkha Community” in the tribal belt and blocks of Bodoland Territorial Region. The Cabinet also decided to notify it in the Sadiya belt in Upper Assam.
This was a long-pending demand of several Gorkha organisations, including the Assam Gorkha Sammelan and All Assam Gorkha Students’ Union to change the nomenclature of the Nepali-speaking community of Assam from the word ‘Nepali’ to Gorkha.
Along with UGPO cadres, 77 cadres of Tiwa Liberation Army (TLA) also formally surrendered and laid down arms before the chief minister at the surrender ceremony here on Thursday afternoon.
TLA, formed in 2014, was mainly active in Morigaon, Nagaon and West Karbi Anglong districts. The surrendered cadres belong to Morigaon, Nagaon, West Karbi Anglong, Karbi Anglong and Kamrup (Metro) districts UGPO.
Both the outfits together deposited 277 types of arms and grenades and 720 rounds of ammunition before the authorities.
Moreover, a one-time financial grant of Rs 1.5 lakh each was distributed among the former members of Rava National Liberation Front (28 members), Adivashi Dragon Fighter (61), National Santhal Liberation Army (41), National Liberation Front of Bengali (303) and United People’s Revolutionary Front (29) for their rehabilitation.
These five former militant organisations had surrendered en masse before the authorities in January 2020.
“They have to utilise the financial grant judiciously for livelihood and generating employment. We are embracing the misguided youths who have come back home and expect them to utilise their vigour and strength to build a strong Assam.” the chief minister said.
“Barring ULFA (I) and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, all the other militant outfits are in talks or have surrendered arms. However, I would like to mention here that ULFA (I)’s decisions not to declare bandhs on Independence Day last year and Republic Day yesterday have given us hope that the government and the outfit would be able to move ahead for peace talks,” the chief minister said.
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