When I first met Philip O Sangma in 2019 at his residence at Nongthymmai Garo in Pilangkata (Ri Bhoi district), he was in his late eighties and a witness to the border politics between Meghalaya and Assam that had a harsh impact on the lives of the villagers there over decades. Amid political upheavals and insurgency in Assam, Sangma had lost a pre-primary school that he ran for the poor children in the area. But nothing could take away his hope and this reflected in his smile.
Sangma started St Michael’s School in Pilangkata in 1981 to help children in the locality as well as neighbouring Maikhuli. In 1987, suspected members of the ULFA outfit tried to usurp the land and offered Sangma money to close down the school and move on. He refused as he never wanted to sell the land to anyone from outside Meghalaya. So, he was kidnapped and forced to sign land documents at gunpoint. Sangma lost over 1,330,000 sq ft in no time.
But Sangma was determined to fight for his rights. He sought the Meghalaya government’s help several times but in vain. Sitting on the verandah of his one-storeyed house in Nongthymmai Garo village with a gamosa in hand, Sangma had narrated his fight and plight over the years. His files had all the documents containing details of violations, high-handedness and injustice. He had pulled out a document from 1979 to show how a border agreement at the deputy commissioner level was violated repeatedly.
Throughout his conversation he had barely showed signs of exasperation and his intermittent sighs were only a sign of fatigue of the age.
Sangma, who was a teacher and silent activist, also featured in MA.AMA, a national award-winning film by his youngest son Dominic Megam Sangma. He played the main protagonist in the film that is based on his life and loneliness. He was also nominated for the Best Actor award.
But it was not the celluloid that defined Philip Sangma or his existence. He must be remembered as a tireless fighter who silently continued his work to save the village and the adjoining areas from becoming part of the neighbouring state.
Sangma died on July 16 at the age of 95. With him ended a long struggle. But one hopes that his spirit of fighting remains immortal.