[ Taba Ajum ]
From 21 to 25 February, I experienced what can aptly be termed a Kashmir-like situation in Itanagar.
On the 21st, when I was on reporting duty, attending the assembly session, reports started pouring in at around 11 am that there was going to be a mass gathering to protest the possibility of granting PRCs to non-APSTs. Initially, everyone thought the protest would subside after some time. At around 1.30 in the afternoon, I was very hungry, and rushed home to have a quick meal. However, as I was leaving, I saw a gathering of youths near my office, raising slogans against the chief minister and other politicians.
When I came back, at around 3 pm, the number of protestors had increased and they had blocked access to the assembly. I parked my car near my office and started talking to the protestors. Suddenly, some of them started marching towards the office of the All Nyishi Students’ Union, which is located nearby, and started to damage it. Most of the protestors were very young, and a bulk of them was girls. They seemed deeply angry with the politicians and with student bodies like the ANSU and the AAPSU for not initially opposing granting of PRCs to non-APSTs.
As the protest turned violent, the police tried to control the mob, but it led to violent clashes outside The Arunachal Times office. Teargas was fired, protestors were lathi-charged, and stones were being pelted from every side. One IRBn jawan received a head injury from a stone pelted by the protestors. Several protestors were also injured. Some of the girls took shelter in the verandah of our office. I was worried for their safety and appealed to them to go back home. But one girl shot back at me: “Hum police se nahi darta hain.”
That really summed up how anger was fuelling up their hearts. As it was becoming difficult to drive back home, I parked my car at a friend’s house and walked home. It took me around an hour to walk from The Arunachal Times office to Ganga – something which usually takes about 15 minutes. There were protestors all over the road, and blockades were everywhere. The whole area looked like a war zone.
Astonishingly, some non-APST boys were part of the protest in Ganga. The irony was that the protest was launched to stop granting of PRCs to non-APSTs, even though it might have been to landholding non-APSTs of districts like Changlang and Namsai.
Late at night, at around 1 am, a colleague called me to inform that some protestors had received bullet injuries, and after a few hours the news of the death of 23-year-old Risso Tare came. In the next two days, the report of the deaths of two more youths, Biki Ruja and Tsering Wangdi, came in.
On the evening of the 24th, I got caught between protestors and security forces near Vivek Vihar. The protestors were raining stones, and the security forces were firing in the air. One stone almost hit me.
Apart from the deaths and the injuries caused to several protestors, massive damages were done to government and private properties. Perhaps it will take some time for everyone to emerge from this trauma.
On humanitarian ground, Arunachalees sympathize with the condition of the non-APSTs who are living in certain areas of Changlang and Namsai districts since centuries. But the indigenous tribal’s fear of being reduced to a minority cannot be brushed aside. In the Northeast, there is the example of Tripura, where the Bengalis, who are recent settlers, have outnumbered the indigenous tribals, reducing them to minorities in their own land. Unless sufficient awareness regarding the PRC issue is created, the indigenous tribals here may never accept the granting of PRCs to non-APSTs.