This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

My One And Only Attempt To Fight Terror

From 2008:


I’ve written elsewhere about the time when this state had its own home-grown terror movement, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), flag above, and how its primary “terror” activity was the extortion of money from businessmen. That movement is all but over now, with the last remnants of the HNLC hiding in their camps In Bangladesh, trying to stop their few remaining foot soldiers from sneaking over the border to surrender. But, for a while in the late nineties to about 2002-03, the HNLC virtually ruled the state.

There used to be a group back then called Shillong We Care, comprising all the cognoscenti of the city, who loved nothing better than to sit around and swap thoughts back and forth between themselves. I attended one meeting, and that was enough for me. I don’t like talking shops. Anyway: Shillong We Care sponsored a series of posters and ads painted on walls that went so: “Are you extorted? Call 100”; “Extortionists must earn their bread”, and so on. 100 was the police emergency number.

My friend, Ricardo, worked in those days (I’m talking about 2001 now) in an electronics store in the same building where I have my clinic. One afternoon, when I was free, he came rushing in. “Come quick,” he said. “The unofficial taxmen are here!”

As I went with him along the corridor, he explained that an HNLC extortion team were in the electronics shop at that moment. As I stood at the door, he pointed them out to me; a group of three young men sitting across the desk from the owner, talking to him. There were no customers in the shop, and the staff members were crowded against the back wall, as if for protection. I got a good look at the guys; there was one who was fat and dark, in a blue jacket; another who was completely nondescript (I can’t now recall the slightest thing about him, though I retained a few details then) and the third who was very short, fair, bespectacled, and with a buzz-cut. I got a particularly good look at this one since he was sitting nearest to me. I even got a good look at how he had a habit of peering over the top of his glasses.

Ricardo later told me that there were two more outside, on the pavement, acting as lookouts while the three inside negotiated the payment. Of course they had come unarmed, but the threat of violence, if the owner didn’t pay, was real; in January 2001 five people (two customers and three salesmen) had been killed  in another electronics showroom just a hundred metres further down the road. Ricardo also told me when these would be back for the next round of negotiations.

That night I had a long struggle with myself. I knew the police was riddled with HNLC sympathisers and possibly members, and I knew anything I did would be more likely than not useless; and yet I couldn’t let the bastards just get away with it. Finally I called 100. Here’s a rough transcript, as far as I can recall, of the conversation that followed:

BORED VOICE: Hello.   

I: Hello. I’m calling to report an HNLC extortion attempt on...(the name of the shop). I saw them there today, and they’ll be back on...(the date my friend had given me). There were three of them there and two more on the pavement (I described them).

BV (polite disbelief): You’re calling in report the HNLC?

I: Yes.

BV: up number...(gives me a number I never heard of, and hangs up).

Not too surprisingly, I didn’t call that number. If the police emergency room character isn’t going to take my call, and if he isn’t even interested in knowing who I am and how I know what I’m telling him, calling the other number would have been as useless...or maybe foolhardy. I did say that the police of the time were riddled with HNLC sympathisers. That number he’d given me might have been a direct link to one of them.

I haven’t called the police for anything since then.

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