Shillong clashes: Curfew continued in parts of Shillong for the third straight day today as the Army conducted flag marches in its disturbed areas. Chief Minister Conrad Sangma on Sunday met representatives of various organisations from outside and groups from Delhi. The Chief Minister also added that the news about some people are displaced, hungry and beaten up are false.
“We met organisations coming from outside & today groups from Delhi realised news coming out actually isn’t true. Fact that some people are displaced, hungry & beaten up, that’s not true at all. People are very much safe & that is our commitment. Yes there are issues bothering different communities & these have been pending for last 20-30 yrs. We’ve asked for reports & we ensure we’ll find out amicable solution to these issues. It can’t be on streets but on table where we sit across & discuss it,” Sangma told ANI.
On Saturday, Army rescued around 500 people including 200 women and children from the site following night-long violence and arson. Internet services have also remained suspended. Police have arrested 10 people so far in connection with the violence that took place on Thursday following an argument between a Khasi boy and a Punjabi woman in Them Iew Mawlong area, which is mostly dominated by Punjabi people with around 350 households.
Sunny Singh (20), a resident of Shillong’s ‘Punjabi Lane’ (Them Iew Mawlong) said that he hadn’t slept for last two days. “A few metres from here, the house of a Punjabi family was set on fire last night. We are scared for our lives,” Singh told The Indian Express. Singh also added that the anger at the Punjabi community is a part of long-standing demand from different sections of Khasi community to evict them from the area.
Billu Singh, headman of the Harijan Panchayat Committee and Gurjeet Singh, General Secretary of the Gurudwara Committee of Them Iew Mawlong alleged the violence was a part of larger demand of Khasi community. “Since the 1980s, they (Khasis) have been calling us illegal settlers and asking for us to be shifted out of this place. But we have been living here forever and we will stay here. That is our stand. Though several political leaders have over the years spoken of rehabilitating us to some other location, we have never seen anything concrete. It has just been empty talk,” he told IE. They further said that their ancestors had come to Shillong around two centuries ago to work for the British as cleaners and sweepers.
Soon after the violence, several organisations in Shillong, including the Khasi Student’s Union (KSU) held an emergency meeting and later reiterated their long-term demand for the eviction of the illegal Punjabi settlers.
Donald Thabah, General Secretary of Khasi Students’ Union has demanded the immediate release of arrested Khasi protestors. “We demand that the illegal settlers in that area are immediately evicted. Those who assaulted the minor Khasi boy should be booked under stringent laws. And the Khasi protesters arrested in the clashes should be released and those injured must be compensated,” Thabah told IE.
On Saturday, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and other Cabinet ministers met residents of both communities of troubled areas. Later in the evening, a government press release was issued, which said, “The headmen spoke at length regarding the hardships faced by the local and genuine residents of the area and requested the government to immediately withdraw the police force from… the localities… The Home Minister informed them that the police force had till now exercised maximum restraint and would continue to do so.” The statement added that members of Khasi community had sought the removal of Punjabi’s from Punjabi Lane.
Earlier in the evening, P S Dkhar, Deputy Commissioner of East Khasi Hills District said the situation has improved. “The situation has improved a lot since yesterday but protests have erupted today in certain areas,” Dkhar told IE. He also said the night curfew will continue. “The Army has been kept on standby and night curfew will continue for the second night tonight from 10 pm to 5 am,” Dkhar told PTI. Superintendent of Police (City) Stephan Rynjah was injured on Friday night after he was hit by a rod.
The clash broke out between a group of bus drivers and residents of Them Motor area on Thursday afternoon. According to police, trouble escalated when rumours spread on a social networking site that a bus driver had succumbed to injuries. The police had to fire teargas shells to bring the situation under control. A journalist was among those injured.