What’s Behind Shillong Clashes
TOPIC: General Studies 3:
- North East Issues
In News: Shillong had been in the grip of violence in the last week of May, following a fight between Sikh residents in the city’s Punjabi Lane area, also known as the Sweeper Colony, and the Khasi drivers of state-run buses.
What led to the Shillong incident?
- Fake news
- Lack of decisive police action
- Breakdown of local institutions
Historical Background – A “us versus them” tug-of-war
The ethnic tension can be traced to a faultline that increasingly defines politics in Northeast — fear and hatred of the ‘outsider’
- Shillong began as a colonial project in the 1870s, when Assam was carved out of the Bengal presidency. It included not just the Khasi, Garo, Jaintia Hills but also Cachar and Sylhet, those districts from which the Sylheti-speaking Bengalis came.
- As the town began to grow, it drew Assamese as well as Nepalis and Marwaris, who came here for work and trade. Sylhet, earlier a part of Assam, was made over to the other side, and its Hindu residents turned into refugees.
- The success of the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam in the 1970s triggered similar mobilisations across the region. The uneven development of local economies, chaotic urbanisation etc. has further intensified anxieties.
- This time, the dkhar (migrant/foreigner) is the Mazhabi Sikh community, which was brought by the British to work as scavengers and sweepers.
Views of Khasi people: The tension between the two communities stems from a long-standing demand from sections of the Khasi society to evict “illegal settlers” from the area. Khasi people have been pushing the Meghalaya government to relocate Sikh residents from Punjabi Lane where they have been living since British rule in India.
Views of the Sikhs: The Sikh residents claim their ancestors were brought to the area to carry out manual scavenging and were given the land to reside permanently in by the then local administration – a contention that was challenged by the Shillong district administration in the 1970s.
- The sentiment that the state requires special protection has not changed despite the fact that it has become a modern state with executive legislative and judicial power. This is a huge challenge. It’s basically a toxic mixture of primordial tribalism which has become the modern state, and the modern state where if you are not the son of the soil you are not equal before law, and that you do not have equal rights.
- The administration must involve the local population by making them understand that in the development that is happening, the locals are stakeholders.
- It is the responsibility of the administration to see that factors which create disharmony must be handled with firmness.
- Administration should create, and administration should react but when the administration itself becomes actually so biased – one does not really want the administration to come in. This should not be the case.
B N Sharma Commission set up after 1991-92, estimated that 15 years of communal violence in Meghalaya had displaced thousands and killed hundreds of non-tribal people in Shillong.
1986: While the Sikhs managed to get a stay on the eviction order in 1986, they have since been struggling to retain their ‘homes’ amidst a growing clamour from various Khasi groups for their relocation.
Shillong – a hilly terrain in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, once named ‘The Scotland of the East’ by the British
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