Shillong remains on edge after clashes between tribals, Sikhs; Amarinder Singh sends Congress team to assess situation

Shillong: After four days of violence, curfew was imposed across Shillong on Monday afternoon. According to Peter Sansan Dkhar, deputy commissioner, East Khasi Hills, blanket curfew will be enforced from 4 pm till 5 am on Tuesday. “Curfew has been imposed in the whole of Shillong as there is a likelihood that a breach of peace may spread to other parts of the city,” Dkhar said.

News of the curfew caused panic with parents rushing to collect their children from school. On Sunday evening, curfew was re-imposed when during a seven-hour respite, protesters took to the streets and started pelting stones at the police in Motphran and adjoining areas. The stone pelting continued until early Monday morning. The state government has called for an all-party meeting to discuss the situation in the city.

The problem began on the morning of 31 May, when an altercation between women from Sweeper’s Lane, many of whom were Dalit Sikhs, and employees of the Shillong Public Transport Service (SPTS) turned violent and a few people suffered minor injuries. By nightfall, the situation had turned tense when 500 SPTS employees gathered to march to Sweeper’s Lane. According to Davis Nestell R Marak, East Khasi Hills superintendent of police, a rival group from Sweeper’s Lane set off to confront this first group and police had to intervene to disperse the crowd, which he says was armed with daggers and knives.

Van overturned near HG Roberts Hospital, Jaiaw by protesters on Sunday night. Image: 101Reporters

Van overturned near HG Roberts Hospital, Jaiaw by protesters on Sunday night. Image: 101Reporters

Marak says, “There was an apprehension that it would lead to serious clashes, due to which a lathi charge was ordered. It took a long time for the conflict to be contained. We were able to contain the group by around 2.30 am.”

What fuelled the anger were rumours flying around on social media that one of those injured in the clash on 31 May had died. Home minister James K Sangma said on 1 June that all the 3G and 4G services had been stopped to prevent false news from spreading on social media. The services remain suspended till now.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Kongkal Sangma alleged that those indulging in stone-pelting were funded by certain unidentified people. His remarks sparked a fresh round of abuse on social media.

Aibok Jyrwa, a student said, “As chief minister, I believe (he) is not supposed to say something like that, especially on national media. The message will be taken in the wrong way. The ones who started all this, the Khasis, have now become the victims!” Another social media user, Jop Scott Shylla, complained, “What an incapable chief minister we have! How could he blame others for his inability to take the situation in control? It is spineless on his part to put the blame on others”

Meanwhile, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on Monday rushed a team of four senior Congress leaders to Shillong to assess the situation.

The leaders who have been sent to Shillong include MLAs Sukhjinder Randhawa and Kuldeep Singh Vaid, and MPs Gurjeet Aujla and Ravneet Bittu. The team was to meet Dalit Sikhs in Shillong to see how the government of Punjab could assist them.

An official statement from the Punjab chief minister’s office stated that Captain Amarinder Singh has sought Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma’s co-operation in facilitating the team’s visit and ensuring their access to the areas from where reports of tension or trouble were coming in.

“Amid reports of simmering tension, the chief minister has also urged Sangma to provide full protection and safety for the Sikh community and their religious institutions in the state,” said a spokesperson.

Amarinder Singh has offered all possible help to the Meghalaya government in ensuring the security of the Dalit Sikhs, whose ancestors were reportedly brought to Shillong during colonial times. He said the Centre should intervene if necessary to defuse the communal tensions in which the Sikhs in Shillong are caught.

The tension in Shillong also invited sharp criticism from people across Punjab who vented their anger on social media claiming that nothing was being done to protect Sikhs.

Ravjyot Singh, a resident of Ludhiana who owns a gas agency, said that the government of Meghalaya should protect the minority Sikhs who have been living in the state for decades. “While Sikhs are the first to help anyone irrespective of their religion or caste, they are themselves being subjected to violence,” he said.

(Kyrmenlang Uriah is a Meghalaya-based journalist and and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)


Updated Date: Jun 04, 2018 16:40 PM

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