Meghalaya – HNLC Crisis: Who was Cherishterfield Thangkhiew? Why his death caused upheaval in north-eastern state?

Meghalaya’s Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui has resigned and called for a judicial probe to uncover the truth behind the killing of Cherishterfield Thangkhiew. Read who was Thangkhiew and why his death has caused upheaval in Meghalaya.

Cherishterfield Thangkhiew
Cherishterfield Thangkhiew

Meghalaya – HNLC Crisis: After the death of Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, a former militant of the outlawed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), during a police operation, Shillong witnessed arson, stone pelting, and vandalism on August 15, 2021, and has been put under curfew till August 18, 2021.

Meghalaya’s Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui on August 15, 2021, resigned and called for a judicial probe to uncover the truth behind the killing of Thangkhiew of the HNLC during a police operation on August 13.

Amid the unrest, the Meghalaya government has suspended internet services for 72 hours in four districts, East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South-West Khasi Hills, and Ri-Bhoi district beginning from 6 pm on August 15, 2021.

Who was Cherishterfield Thangkhiew?

•Thangkhiew, 57, was the founding General Secretary of the separatist Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

•Thangkhiew had entered militancy in 1987 and was the co-founder of the first prominent separatist militant tribal organization Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC) in Meghalaya. He surrendered to the government in October 2018.

•Thangkhiew was gunned down at his residence in Shillong during a police encounter on August 13.  The encounter was reportedly carried out by the police team of East Khasi Hills and East Jaintia Hills. The Police team in their statement said that Thangkhiew came upon the team with a knife to which the police team in their defense fired a single shot at him.

•Meghalaya police further stated that they had strong incriminating evidence of Thangkhiew’s involvement in the IED blasts in the past two months.

Political Aftermath: Resignation of Meghalaya’s Home Minister Rymbui

•Meghalaya’s Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui belonging to the United Democratic Party, an ally of CM Sangma’s National People’s Party resigned on August 15, 2021, and called a judicial probe into the killing of Thangkhiew.

•CM Sangma in a press conference said that he is yet to make a decision. He will investigate all aspects of the State’s security.

•On August 16, 2021, the Cabinet announced a judicial inquiry in Thangkhiew’s death. It has also announced a Peace Committee that will be chaired by ministers and members from religious organizations, community heads, civil society, etc.

•A ‘Security and Law & Order’ subcommittee headed by CM Sangma will also be formed to deal with aspects of law & order in the state.

Separatist militancy in Meghalaya: Background

•Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC) was formed as the first prominent separatist militant tribal organization in the mid-1980s as an anti-outsider movement. Thangkhiew was the cofounder of the council.

•Hynniewtrep represented the Khasi and Jaintia communities and Achik represented the Garo community.

•HALC was later divided and Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) came into being that represented the Khasi and Jaintia communities and the Achik Matgrik Liberation Army that represented the Garo community. The Achik Matgrik Liberation Army was later replaced by the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC).

•The HNLC has been known for frequently calling bandhs, extortions, boycotting Independence Day, etc in the early 2000s. The ANVC since 2004 has been under an extended ceasefire agreement with the government while the HNLC has been trying to talk peace with the government but on a conditional basis.

•Overall, as per experts, insurgency in Meghalaya has been declining. In 2018, the Centre withdrew the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Meghalaya after almost 27 years post witnessing a decline by 80 per cent in insurgency-related incidents.

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