Recently, Shillong has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The TV sets and newspapers had headlines that read ‘Shillong on the edge’, ‘Violence hits Shillong’, ‘Shillong on the boil’, etc. What started as a petty argument between the resident Sikhs of Punjabi Lane(Them Mawlong) and the indigenous Khasis was blown out of proportion by NGOs with vested interests, and of course, political parties that suddenly found themselves uprooted from power in the state.
There are two narratives behind the cause of the altercation between the Punjabis and the Khasis. One is the narrative of the Khasis and the other of the Punjabis. I do not vouch for the authenticity of either of the two. However, what I am quite sure about is the fact that this altercation came as a blessing in disguise for those who wanted to disturb the political environment of the State for obvious political gains.
The Opposition: On May 31st, Congress won the Ampati by-poll in the state and emerged as the single-largest party once again. News was doing the rounds that the Congress would stake claim to form the Government in the state.(I don’t really understand how they thought of doing so without moving a no-confidence motion against the current NPP-led government.) By evening, Shillong was burning. The next day I received information about how top leaders were distributing expensive alcohol, food and a sum of Rs. 1500/- to each rioter. For the next three days, the situation deteriorated to an extent that the Army was called in and had to conduct several flag marches.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma later confirmed that it was indeed certain political leaders and vested interest groups of the state that were wooing the rioters with money and alcohol. He also said that the government was identifying such people and would bring them to the book. If not with an aim to destabilise the state/government, what else could have been the cause for Shillong turning into a boiling cauldron? There are fights and scuffles of this nature every day. None of them turn so volatile that the Army has to conduct flag marches. Besides, the altercation between the Punjabis and Khasis was settled that very same day with the intervention of the Police. However, as evening approached, hundreds of rioters gathered around Punjabi Lane and started pelting stones along with Petrol bombs. Without solid political backing and funding, such extravagant methods of rioting would not have been made possible. In 2013, the ILP agitations in Shillong had made the then Congress government almost helpless in front of the mobs which had started targeting non-tribals. There were ‘bandhs’ called by the pressure groups every alternate day. Ironically, the same Congress now has the gumption to taunt the current government for their handling of the situation.
The NGOs: The main culprits however, are these self-styled hate-mongering ‘pressure groups’ masquerading as Student Unions and NGOs. Their disdain for non-tribals is barely concealed. From the riots of 1987 to the ILP agitation in the state, these pressure groups have always had their dirty hands behind violence against Non-Tribals. Experts in creating ethnic divisions, these same NGOs took advantage of the volatile situation and unleashed their goons in the troubled areas. A leader of the most popular Students Union in the state went on record on Northeast Live and said that these clashes were in no way associated with their Union and that it was the anger of the indigenous people which had bottled up for a very long time. He also announced that if the Government did not shift the Punjabis from the area, the people(by which he meant his union) would themselves remove the residents of Punjabi Lane. I wonder why no action has been initiated against this individual for threatening public order and communal harmony. If such NGOs were indeed not involved in these clashes, why then did these ‘pressure groups’ submit a memorandum to the Government? As soon as the Government accepted their demands, incidents of violence and stone pelting stopped instantaneously. What do you infer from this?
These clashes were DEFINITELY ‘Communal’: For far too long, many have been apologetic and on the defensive about the nature of these clashes. Let’s be clear about one thing- these incidents were completely communal in nature. Specific targeting of Sikh settlements in the city took place. A car belonging to a Sikh family was burnt down. Two petrol bombs were hurled in my locality itself. A bike showroom belonging to a Punjabi was gutted with fire. On the Guwahati-Shillong road, an old Sikh driver’s truck was burnt down, an innocent that had no involvement in these clashes. Yet he was targetted for wearing a turban. If not communal, what else should such violent incidents be termed as? Patricia Mukhim, Editor of The Shillong Times was heavily criticised for speaking the bare truth on the communal nature of these clashes. Any sane person would agree with her.
A Case Study: These clashes are one of the first of its kind in Shillong. For the very first time, the rioters were challenged. As the crowd of hundreds of rioters advanced towards the Punjabi Lane, hundreds of Sikh men and women came out of their homes holding up their Kirpans(swords) and crying out aloud “Jo Bole So Nihaal, Sat Sri Akal!” After these scenes, the bulk of the clashes occurred between the security forces and the violent and drunk mobs.The immense support which the Shillong Sikh community have garnered from around the globe is a milestone in itself. Delegations flew down to violence-struck Shillong within one day of the violence. The arrival of delegations of SGPC, Akal Takht, DSGMC, Punjab Government, Khalsa Aid International, United Sikhs, National Human Rights Council, National Commission for Minorities, among others have collectively sent a resounding message to all those attempting to create havoc and disturb peace in the state that any misadventures against the Sikh community will have huge repercussions.
The NPP-led government of Conrad Sangma must be lauded for handling the situation with such precision and professionalism. The Congress can keep blaming the Government for not handling the situation well, but deep down they too know that it couldn’t have been handled better.