Sun, Oct 23, 2016 | updated 11:29 PM IST

Changing track: From militancy to being a preacher

Updated: Sep 13, 2016 07:39 IST

Tura (Meghalaya) [India], Sept. 13 (ANI): For the past 15 years Heldison M. Sangma, a rebel turned preacher has been spreading the gospel of God in Garo hills.

He was ordained as "Reverend" on Sunday at a ceremony in Rongjeng Baptist Church in East Garo Hills. He has been serving there as pastor since 2000.

Heldison joined the rebel outfit - A'chik Matgrik Liberation Army (ALMA) in his youth, while pursuing his intermediate studies.

"I decided to join militant outfit as Garos were suppressed and oppressed. I thought by being in ALMA, I would serve the Garo society", said Heldison, who underwent arms training under the leadership of NSCN in the jungles of Garo hills.

In 1990, the Naga outfit used Garo hills as their hideout and collaborated with ALMA to spread terror activities. Heldison served in ALMA between 1991-94.

He worked under the command of Desang Sangma, who was then the secretary of the outfit.

When asked, if he had killed people during his jungle days, Heldison said, "In the outfit, everybody had different roles to play. I was assigned the task to mobilise the community and highlight the objectives of ALMA".

He said that he was not lured by anybody to join militancy but the prevailing situation had compelled many youths like him to join the outfit for the greater cause of the Garo society.

"I regret being at ALMA. I should have not joined the outfit. It was my biggest mistake in life", he added.

Arrested by police in early 1994 and lodged in Williamnagar jail, Heldison managed to flee and rejoined the outfit. "After fleeing from jail, I came closer to God and decided to follow the path of peace", he said.

Heightened insurgency operation between 1994-95 had led to the arrest of outfit's chief Dilash Marak and Wilbur Sangma. The turn of event forced Heldison and Desang to hold negotiation for mass surrender as the top brass where lodge in Shillong jail.

In October 1995, the members of the outfit surrendered and the state government offered general amnesty.

While undergoing rehabilitation for six months at Shillong jail, Reverend Tesang G. Momin suggested Heldison to continue his studies and pursue Theology. After completing his rehabilitation, he appeared his intermediate exam (PU) and later joined Harding Theological College, Tura.

After completing his studies in 2000, he was ordained as pastor. "Ever since, I have been associated with the ministry in spreading the gospel of God. With insurgency taking toll on the lives of the people, we as church organisation have been holding talks to bring the youths back to the mainstream", he said.

Heldison has dared to set an example to other militants.

"I urge my brothers, who have taken up arms that we cannot bring out change in the society with arms. We have to resolve issues and problems with constructive decision and work to fructify it", he said.

He is first amongst the Garo surrendered militant, who has been ordained as Reverend.

When asked, what can bring solution to insurgency, Heldison said, "The youths have been misguided and lured for money. If there are job and livelihood opportunities, there will be turnaround in the situation".

In 1995 ALMA passed into oblivion. The end of ALMA gave birth to A'chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), which was headed by former rebel of ALMA including Dilash and Wilbur.

Most cadres of ALMA joined ANVC and continued to unleash terror. In the past two decades, Garo hills have seen birth of at least 15 rebel outfits. (ANI)