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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightThe gathering cloud in...

The gathering cloud in Meghalaya

The gathering cloud in Meghalaya

With the Sangh Parivar governance patronizing the politics of racism which consists of alienating and driving people away, the havens of peace in the country are being lost one by one.

The mobs take law into their hands for branding those who are disliked as aliens, uncivilized and aggressors and they enjoy the support of the Sangh Parivar governments at the Centre and the states for that. With that, things are such that only a trivial matter is sufficient pretext to ill-treat the weak minority communities in different parts of the country. The best example of that are the Khasi-Punjabi clashes in Shillong, the capital of north eastern state of Meghalaya and one of the prominent tourist centres in the country.

A Dalit-Sikh woman questioned a Khasi bus driver about parking his bus in a congested area inhabited by the Punjabis. Reports say that the altercation between the woman and the Khasi man turned into a clash between the two communities. Although those who were engaged in the quarrel resolved the issue, things went out of control when anti-social elements used social media to add fuel to fire. With fake news spreading on WhatsApp about Punjabis beheading two Khasi youth, the Khasi locals who marched towards the Punjabi Line area of the city vandalized their properties and put the area under siege. Though the Army conducted a flag march and the police beefed up measures to track down the culprits, situation has not been brought under control. The local Khasi majority coming forward with an obstinate stance that they would not accept anything less than the eviction of the ‘outsiders’ who settled in Shillong, has triggered apprehensions about fanning the flames of racism that has been dormant for many years. On the other hand, the Dalit Punjabis who migrated to the state as sweepers and scavengers decades before independence, are of the firm stance that they would not leave their homeland in Shillong. With the Khasi locals raising allegations that the Dalit Punjabis have the support of the Punjab government and Punjab Chief Minister expressing concern over the communal clashes against the Sikh community in Meghalaya, the issue has been escalating into new levels. The Garo tribe which has a population of nearly 10 lakh has been locking horns with the Khasi people who form around 12 lakh raising threats of separatism. In that background, the hunt for a small minority of Dalit Sikhs will surely make the situation in the northeastern region more complex. The fact that the disquiet in the small state in the region takes place amidst a situation when the immigrant threats from Bangladesh and the border issues with China are rife, should not be seen as trivial.

The Punjabis in Meghalaya are Dalit Sikhs who were brought to work as cleaners and scavengers by the British more than 160 years ago. According to the system then, they were granted title to a part of the suburbs. After independence, Shillong Municipal Board retained them in the scavenging job. The ‘civilised’ urban residents needed them to clean their toilets at night. However, with scavenging coming to an end in the 80s, the Khasi locals wanted to evict them from the area. The justification they found for this demand was that the Punjabi Line colony of the Dalit Sikhs whose culture they found it difficult to adjust with, had turned into a hub of criminals. The business lobby which is looking for an opportunity to open new malls has also been eyeing the area. In 1972, though the district commissioner ordered their eviction soon after the formation of the state that did not materialize.

When in 1986 the matter was raked up again, the High Court slapped a stay on the earlier order. But, when the Christian Khasis, and Garo, Jaintiya tribes came together in a collective move, the Dalit Sikhs filed a complaint with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Commission for Minorities. In addition, there is a public interest petition also pending in the High Court. The state government, and many including the local MLA, are committing grave discrimination against the Sikhs whom they treat as unwanted. Even after a century and a half, the Sikhs have not received any title document for the land on which they live. They suffer from either denial or deliberate delay in supply of water and electricity. As if these were not enough to satisfy their grudge, they redoubled their efforts to evict them. And the latest eruption of conflicts shows that they are intent on losing no opportunity to enforce such eviction. The Khasi Students Union, which torpedoes any police move for peace, does enjoy the support of other prominent tribes too. That being so, if Conrad Sangma's state government fails to resolve the issues, it will give birth to one more region of unrest in the country's already weak borders of North East. Although the tribes conspiring to make rebellion now may make gains out of it, that may be a huge loss for the country.

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