Extortion in the northeast by numerous pressure groups self-branded as NGOs mostly, apart from militant organisations and even sub-nationalist organisations, is an under-reported yet uncontested truth. With little to no attention from national media, several groups have proliferated in the northeast over decades, and almost all of them refer to themselves as ‘NGOs’. Some shameless outfits also like to call themselves “pressure groups” in this part of the country. Interestingly, NGOs are connected to militant groups. In fact, militant groups are the drivers of northeast India’s extortion industry, with all of them engaging in varied levels of hostility towards the fulfilment of their pocket goals.
In the state of Assam, extortion is just as much a problem as it is in other parts of the northeast. A recent video from Jorhat has laid bare the reality of various groups leading the crusade of extorting businesses in Assam, especially if the business or enterprise is run by a non-Assamese. Again, the tribal-non tribal divide is pervasive across northeast India at several levels. In Assam, this divide comes in very handy for sub-nationalist groups, and of course, militant outfits.
Chanda party are back to their original Business:
Watch how they are giving threat to a businessman in Jorhat who has been doing business there for 150years.
— Ron Bikash Gaurav (@RonBikashGaurav) November 18, 2021
Meanwhile, if a journalist dares to release any such chanda money collection footage in Meghalaya, he will end up dead. Also, the tactics are different. Groups strike a deal with traders' unions. The money is delivered to them with side gifts. Police, govt are complicit. Cute. :) https://t.co/6L5cASqO8w
— Riccha Dwivedi (@RicchaDwivedi) November 18, 2021
Goons belonging to the “Veer Lachit Sena” tried extorting a businessman in Assam’s Jorhat, and sadly, the district administration or police have been very lackadaisical in their approach to such cases. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma must ensure that extortion is immediately put to an end in Assam. If the menace is not ended now when the BJP is at its strongest in the state, there really might never be a possibility to eradicate extortion groups from the state. ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) meanwhile, extorts from anybody it pleases, at a time of its choosing and in a manner which it finds suitable. The business community in northeast India, let’s just say, is operating in a hostile environment.
In Meghalaya, the Christmas season is approaching, and this means that the pressure groups are getting ready to extort money from the state businesses community, especially in the capital city of Shillong. In the 1980s and 1990s, the extortion racket was led by the outlawed militant outfit, HNLC (Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council). The HNLC has weakened considerably ever since, especially in the past one decade. However, with the killing of former HNLC leader Cheristerfield Thangkhiew by Meghalaya Police and a bombing by the outfit in the heart of Shillong recently, the group seems to be looking to rekindle itself in the state. That resuscitation will require money, and the money, of course, will come from businessmen in the state – who will be targeted for their ethnicity.
In Meghalaya, extortion is carried out by pressure groups masquerading as student unions. It is alleged that the government too gets a fair share of such extorted money.
The situation in the northeast is grim. Ironically, northeastern tribals do not have to pay income tax to the government, while the militants of Nagaland, particularly the NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah) run an almost parallel tax collection system in the region they call ‘Nagalim’. They therefore extort not only within the state of Nagaland, but also from Manipur and Assam. The two factions of the NSCN; the IM and the Khaplang factions, both collect taxes from the people (Nagas and Non-tribals alike) at the rate of 25% and 24% respectively, refusing to which, is not a choice. The presence of such groups is the reason why we have seen resistance against highway development projects, as the state of Nagaland more integrated and well-connected with India, is detrimental to the monetary interests of these groups.
According to the Indian Army, the tax is tolled from everyone without discrimination in Nagaland. “The insurgent groups — mainly NSCN-KYA and NSCN-IM — have charged a ‘tax’ of Rs 500-1,000 against every shop per year, 2-10 per cent of sanctioned amount against contractors, Rs 3,000-5,000 per vehicle per year, Rs 300-500 per household per year,” an Indian army officer quoted by India Today in July this year said.
The officer added, “If the extortion amount is not paid, people are threatened with abduction. The insurgent groups intend to carry out maximum extortion or tax collection before the onset of monsoon.”
Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur:
Cases of extortion and illegal tax collection by insurgent groups have increased dramatically in the northeast, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland along the India-Myanmar border. According to an India Today report, the insurgent groups increased their extortion activities following a major financial crunch due to Covid-19 pandemic. This has dramatically pushed the cases of extortion by such groups across the northeast.
When it comes to Arunachal Pradesh, Tirap, Changlang, and Longding districts are the main milking grounds for the insurgent groups due to the presence of coal and timber. Here, contractors, who are engaged in trans-Arunachal highway projects, are prime targets for extortion.
Extortion by Naga militant outfits is carried out in the neighbouring Manipur as well, since the state has a significant Naga population.
Many businessmen have been killed, assaulted or threatened for refusing to be a contributor to the extortion racket in northeast India, while others oblige, to merely keep themselves and their loved ones alive. Money is the ideology, money is the cause, and money alone is what legitimises the functioning of all pressure and extortion groups In northeast India, to this day. Sadly, this story from the northeast is not part of the nationwide narrative of our country.