A day prior to Durga Puja festivities commencing in the state of Meghalaya, particularly in the capital city of Shillong, the Khasi Students Union (KSU) Wednesday put up highly defamatory and hateful flex banners in prime locations, which in no uncertain terms stated that “All Meghalaya Bengalis are Bangladeshis”. Other posters stated “Khasiland for Khasis; Foreigners Go Away”. The banners which specifically targeted the Bengali community of the state invited massive uproar on social media, following which they were taken down by the Police. However, the message which such banners intended to send out not only to the Bengalis of the state but, non-tribals in general, has been received lock, stock and barrel.
The Khasi Students Union (KSU) is a group which claims to fight for the welfare and rights of the indigenous communities of the Khasi Hills. The banners which came up were in response to the state government and the student union itself facing immense backlash for the treatment of non-tribal settlers in areas bordering Bangladesh, particularly in Ichamati, a village which saw violence erupt in February this year between KSU activists and non-tribals, leading to the death of one Lurshai Hynniewta. As a matter of fact, one of the posters put up in the capital city Wednesday even stated, “Q. Who murder LurshaiHynniewta? A. Bengalis of Bangladesh origin.”
So a bunch of hoodlums associated with student unions here in Shillong put up highly hateful and defamatory posters directed towards the state's Bengalis, and the administration watches helpless like a bunch of fools whose testicles have failed to descend. pic.twitter.com/iix1J06FSp
— Sanbeer Singh ਸਨਬੀਰ ਸਿੰਘ (@SSanbeer) October 21, 2020
In the aftermath of the clashes, Bengali Hindus from Ichamati have alleged that they are not being allowed to resume commercial and business-related activities, something which has deeply affected their livelihood. On October 15, as the last straw, three individuals from the area appealed to the state’s Governor to intervene and alleviate their woes, accusing the “state machinery” of stopping “the Hindu population from earning their livelihoods…in connivance with various NGOs (student unions/pressure groups)”.
Earlier, the state police, on the directions of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights was probing allegations of “institutionalised harassment” of non-tribal women and children in the area. The NCPCR was acting on a complaint forwarded to it by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Expectedly, the police concluded that the complaints filed by the non-tribals of the area were ‘unfounded’.
Nevertheless, this has visibly irritated the pressure groups and student unions of the state, who are not particularly habituated to being questioned, let alone facing scrutiny from New Delhi. In recent years, however, the pressure groups of Meghalaya have been entering the spotlight way too often, even as their reality begins to get exposed before the entire nation. Frustrated, the student union on Wednesday took to specifically targeting the Bengali community of the state with hate speech, for which they received immense flak from non-tribals as well as a substantial number of indigenous people in the state.
While the Police took down the highly provocative and hateful flex banners the same day itself, it has failed to nab those responsible for spilling such poison unto prime locations of the capital city. This is not particularly new for those in the know of Meghalaya, its politics and regular spates of hate crime which are witnessed here every now and then. Subsequent to the violence in Ichamati, a spree of stabbings was witnessed in Shillong, resulting in the death of two non-tribals. All those targeted and physically assaulted were non-tribals. No constructive action for the same has been seen yet against the organisation, or its overenthusiastically sub-nationalist workers. Like always, the goons are expected to go scot-free this time around as well.
Having vitiated the atmosphere of the city in particular, and the state in general, it must also be remembered that the hateful flex banners were also put up by the KSU around the statue of a catholic saint –John Bosco. This, however, invited no condemnation from the Church, even as all sections of society in Meghalaya gather together to look at the horrific developments as mute spectators. To put things in perspective, what do you think the response would be like if such flex banners were put up in Delhi, or any other metropolitan city of India? Imagine a poster on Christmas eve which reads “All Northeasterners are Chinese” being put up in the area surrounding India Gate. What would the outrage across India then look like? In Meghalaya, rest assured, these rowdy pressure groups would be out on the streets almost instantly, physically assaulting and harassing any individual with non-mongoloid facial features.
Yet, when a bunch of hoodlums refers to all of Meghalaya’s Bengalis as Bangladeshis, no one is seen batting an eye. Meghalaya’s Home Minister has profoundly concluded that the Ichamati issue is gaining traction due to the upcoming West Bengal polls. Further, he has also said that the claims of Ichamati’s non-tribal residents over racial discrimination and economic boycott were ‘false’.
As absurd as it may sound, an FIR has instead been registered against three non-tribal citizens: Vicky Dey, Prantush Sarkar and Mridul Das on charges of them spreading ‘communalism’. How speaking out against oppression, discrimination and hate has been construed as ‘communalism’ is of course, not comprehensible for the sane-minded.
One must be particularly bigoted, hateful and shameless to dampen the festive mood of an entire community by putting up offensive and incorrect banners targeting them. The Bengali community of Meghalaya has for long resided in the state not as ‘infiltrators’, but as lawful Indian citizens who faced persecution in East Pakistan and had to take refuge in India. The Bengalis of Meghalaya are hard-working, and most importantly, tax-paying citizens of India. The latter feature, by the way, cannot be claimed by many in the state.
Meghalaya’s pressure groups (comprising of student unions) who masquerade themselves as NGOs, have become synonymous with violence and racism. Student Unions comprising mainly of dropouts, led by middle-aged men who should rather be working and paying their taxes, have become a thorn in the maintenance of peace, harmony and law and order in Meghalaya. The Ministry of Home Affairs must seriously look into the working of such unions, and take constructive steps to disband them for their sub-militant behaviour. New Delhi must swing into action as soon as possible and send a resounding message to all those who think they are above the law, and convey that they are very well under it and that consequences await if they fail to mend their ways.
Pressure groups hounding non-tribals will invite no legal action against them, as all issues are historically pushed under the rug. Non-tribals can be stabbed, burnt to death, harassed, but justice delivery will forever remain a far-fetched dream for them. The failure of the state machinery to reign in rogues and hoodlums has only emboldened them over the years, who now seem to think that they have ownership over this land. The Central government will be well advised to bust such fantasies as soon as possible.