No New State for the Beleaguered Garo People of India

India’s Economic Times recently noted that the demand by the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) for the creation a new Indian state for the Garo people was not going to be met, dashing hopes that a negotiated settlement could end one of northeastern India’s numerous “tribal” insurgencies. India’s former home secretary G. K. Pillai dismissed the Garo call for a new territory to be hived off from the state of Meghalaya, noting that a number of larger, better organized activist groups elsewhere in India have been unable to gain their own states. Pillai concluded by noting that, “The GNLA is more like a bunch of criminals and therefore the state government must put efforts to neutralise it.”

Demands for new state creation in India are indeed numerous, as indicated on the map. A number of these movements are based on ethnic tensions, as many of India’s smaller ethnolinguistic groups want to acquire their own political territories. Others are rooted in historical and economic issues, as is the case in regard to the would-be state of Telangana, the subject of the very first GeoCurrents post. Some Indian states are simply too massive to be effectively governed, some argue. Uttar Pradesh, which faces separatist movements on both its eastern and western flanks, would be the world’s fifth most populous country if it were independent.

Several specific issues lie behind the Garo insurgency, but mining figures prominently. The Wikipedia article on the state of Meghalaya provides a pithy summary: “Meghalaya is also notorious for illegal mining that is creating havoc in the state. Balpakram National Park located in South Garo Hills District is constantly being encroached as forest areas are cleared for coal mining. The Garo Hills Anti-Mining and Conservation Forum are constantly shutting these illegal mines, which the government has so far simply ignored.” In the same vein, the Times of India notes understatedly that, “The land in Meghalaya is rich – with minerals, flora and fauna in abundance — but the people of the state are still languishing in poverty.” The International Business Times recently reported that Indian mining companies are intensifying their efforts to establish uranium production facilities in Meghalaya.