The North Eastern region, including Meghalaya has always criticized that the National Media has always portrayed this region in bad light. It has once again reaffirmed the same as the clash which erupted after a road skirmish between some women and a driver of Shillong Public Transport Service bus at Them Meteor, which led to an assault of three persons on May 31, who is the bus conductor, the son of the driver. But things were blown out of proportions as the rumors got the best of the situation through the social media resulting to imposition of curfew in the state capital after 15 years.
Meghalaya has witnessed different shades of communal conflicts, this time it is with the Punjabi, whereas Khasi-Jaintia. The indigenous tribes of Meghalaya believes in Ka Bri U Hynniewtrep, U Hynniewskum- which means the descendent of Seven Huts, which were separated from their kin of Nine Huts after the fall of the Golden Bridge-Jingkieng Ksiar. They still continue to practice the tenets of tip - briew tip - blei (know - man, and know God); and are extremely accommodating and tolerances folks, unless provoked.
This time the conflicts sparked off with the Sikhs community, particularly residing at Them-Iewmowlong, locally known as the Shillong’s Punjabi Lane that is also known as the Sweeper’s Colony. They comprise mainly the manual scavenging Sikhs, but lately, due to the practice of modern sanitation, the community have confined to maintaining the civic duties in the cities attached to Municipality Board. Whereas, most of the younger generation have changed the aged old practices, are now working as Lecturer in city colleges, assisting in Banking institutions, many have also migrated out and working in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) or Multinational Corporation (MNC), few have even set up small establishment in the city itself.
This community, according to the official records, first moved into the city even before the 1857 revolt happened. The British expanded their footprints all over India and set up their bases in Shillong during the 1950s. The British had brought Dalits from Punjab for manual scavenging as the locals would not do the job for the Civic and Military Sanitaria that they established in Shillong. The residents of Punjabi Lane claim that the local Syiem (Chieftain) of Mylliem (village) had given them the piece of land in 1853 to settle there permanently. They also claim that the Syiem of Mylliem had confirmed the grant of land for permanent settlement in a 2008-letter to the Meghalaya State Electricity Board Chairman.
The letter said that the land was given to Dalits from Punjab after an agreement between the Raja of Mylliem and the British administration was reached. The pact was signed on December 10, 1863. This means that the Dalit – Sikhs have lived in Shillong’s Punjabi Lane for over 150 years.
The location is just adjacent to the largest commercial market- Iewduh. As the city grows, there have been attempts to relocate the populace to other location under the Municipality Board. Few have already resettled in different locations in Greater Shillong; the remaining for the last three decades have refused to move as per the mentioned Agreement between the Traditional Institution and the Colonial Ruler. The incident of May 31 have only erupted, as the three indigenous tribals were assaulted by the local Punjabis, to once again renew the demand for the removal of this community from the heart of the commercial jurisdiction.
There is no denial also, like any society, here in the now infamous Punjabi Lane too have some anti-social elements and also indulge in various anti social activities, but it is the duty of the district administration to eradicate all such anti-social activities, and none can take the law in their own hands.
As mentioned, it is a three - decade old issue of resettling the Punjabi of this particular location. Many durbars have refused to accommodate them in their jurisdiction, while some of them managed to find new residential quarters, and every successive state government has to face the same issue. While many alleged that they have been utilized as vote bank, this time Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) led by National People’s Party (NPP) headed by Conrad Kongkal Sangma have set up a High Level Panel on Punjabi Lane relocation headed by Deputy Chief Minister, Prestone Tynsong, but there is no specific time frame given to the panel.
As mentioned, the motive of the Colonial Rajj for bringing them here have now changed. There are more educated and skilled population. The Panel needs to involve this section of the population. It will make them easier to sensitize their own folks about the modernized housing, and better environment for them and the generation to come. Relocation should not be taken as political gimmick; this may happen to any community for the expansion of the city in particular.
As restoring normalcy in the state capital, involvement all stakeholders including the educated youths from the Punjabi lane along with their leaders is a must to strike a balance. Meanwhile, as mentioned the curfew was clamped after 15 years, hence, the police personnel deployed for maintaining of Law and Order have many young officers and subordinates. They need to be briefed on how to perform, they need to respect the Curfew-Pass issued by the District Magistrate for the essential services and ambulances.
As has happened in the past, the deployment of the additional Para-military forces should be accompanied by the Local police personnel, as the communication gap has always led to further violence and clashes between the protestors and the Patrolling team.
Like in the year 1991, a special Communal Harmony Committee needs to be formed to restore peace; the Central Puja Committee is one such committee which was constituted to maintain peace and harmony. Conrad government too should adopt such professionalism approach to restore peace in the city.