Tools aid for Rabhas, Garos

Genang (Meghalaya), Oct. 25 : Tension has subsided since the ethnic clashes broke out between Rabha and Garo communities here in January, but the violence that continued for about a fortnight was enough to rob 2,000 poor families living along the Assam-Meghalaya boundary of their livelihood.

However, today the villagers affected by the ethnic clashes had some relief with the Assam branch of the Indian Red Cross Society jointly with the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) launching the Micro Economic Initiative Programme for economic security of the villagers.

Under this special programme, 276 families belonging to both Rabha and Garo communities in Genang and Thapa Dangre villages in East Garo Hills of Meghalaya and Puthimari and Ginogre villages in Assam’s Goalpara district were provided grants to assist them pick up their farming or other income generating activities.

These included weaving equipment, pulling carts, bicycles, flying shuttle, agricultural equipment and mason tools.

“We have identified at least 2,000 families whose livelihood sources were badly affected and they were struggling to cope with the situation. We have started the programme in four villages and will cover the remaining villages gradually. We don’t give cash and instead provide need-based support to make sure that the grants are properly utilised to improve their condition,” public relations co-ordinator of ICRC Deba Prasad Sarma said here.

Around 5,000 families, comprising over 60,000 people, were affected in the ethnic clashes between Rabha and Garo villagers in January which broke out following a strike called by the All Rabha Students Union.

More than 200 women gathered at the playground of Resubelpara, a Rabha village in East Garo Hills, where the grants were distributed by ICRC member Paul Kin and cooperation assistant Diganta Bujarbaruah.

The villagers applauded in unison but the haunting memories of the clashes and the grief of losing their belongings were writ large on their faces.

Hema Rabha, 23, was five months pregnant when criminals came rushing to her Resubelpara village under Mendipathar police station and burnt all their four houses, stocks of 10 quintal paddy and her two weaving machines (tat sal).

“I rushed to the nearby hills and stayed there for some time before my husband took me to the relief camp. Before the clashes, I used to earn about Rs 2,000 every month by weaving our traditional clothes — Rabha dokhona. Today I got a weaving machine and from tomorrow I will try to resume work,” Hema told this correspondent, holding her seven-month-old baby girl, Christina.

Similar was the story of Shodesh Sangma, a Garo villager at Puthimari village in Goalpara, who lost his handcart in the clashes. He was provided a handcart today.