Extortion is an art, word-weary militants in Meghalaya seem to convey.
Suspected rebels in state’s Garo Hills have been serving pictorial demand notes to individuals and organisations. A religious institution got one last week; it had a gun drawn alongside a calligraphic R30 lakh and a taped unused bullet.
It was a departure from the days when extremist groups in the northeast used long formal letters to seek, sometimes apologetically, ‘revolution fund’ for sustaining their fight against ‘colonial India’.
Last Thursday, unidentified men handed over the pictorial note to Ramakrishna Mission School and Orphanage at Kuralbanga in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district. The mission authorities informed the local police after interpreting the drawing as a pay-up-or-pay-with-your-life message.
A senior district police officer said details about the extortionists were sketchy, but patrolling in the area had been intensified to nab them.
A few weeks ago, miscreants had used similar drawings to extract money from a retired Don Bosco schoolteacher in Garo Hills. He was abducted after failing to ‘read’ the message. He was released later on payment of ransom.
Extortion and abduction are rampant in Meghalaya despite half a dozen rebel outfits such as Garo National Liberation Army being on truce mode. According to Meghalaya police records, 175 people were abducted between June 2013 and June 2014 – an abduction every two days.
“The situation in the Garo Hills part is grave,” the state’s chief secretary PBO Warjri said, attributing the rise of militancy there to social backwardness.
The problem has been compounded by criminals trying to cash in on the names of rebel outfits or floating obscure groups. One such group is A'chik National Co-operative Army that was formed earlier this year.
These outfits, while taking a leaf out of the extortion book of older outfits in the northeast, have introduced their own styles such as doodling demand notes.
Rebel groups in the region have various ways of extorting or imposing ‘taxes’. In Nagaland, various factions of National Socialist Council of Nagaland collect land, property and sales tax annually or monthly through village headmen or urban locality chiefs.
Like their counterparts in Manipur, they also ensure employees of government departments and private companies contribute up to 24% of their salaries to their ‘governments’. These are usually collected through an accountant or cashier.
Less than a decade ago, Manipur militants took a fancy to ‘gifting’ a grenade with their demand notes. The United National Front of Asom was among the first group to go digital and email their demand notes. It also offered EMIs as payment option to “ease the burden” on the people during the recession phase in the late 2000s.