Khasi students’ body targets Bengalis; Meghalaya government on alert

Published on Oct 22, 2020 09:46 AM IST

Khasi Students’ Union launched a poster campaign at several locations of Shillong on Wednesday. However, the police swiftly moved in and removed them

Posters being put up by activists of the Khasi Students’ Union in Shillong on Wednesday.(HT Photo)
Posters being put up by activists of the Khasi Students’ Union in Shillong on Wednesday.(HT Photo)
Hindustan Times, Shillong | ByDavid Laitphlang

A simmering tension between Meghalaya’s indigenous Khasi community and the minority Bengalis coupled with alleged inflammatory acts by the outsiders has rung alarm bells in the corridors of power in Shillong.

The looming crisis has led Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma to weigh in, as he appealed to the public to maintain peace and harmony.

Sangma’s reaction came after the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) staged a protest against the proposed visit of the representatives of the All Bengali Youth and Students’ Organisation (ABYSO) and cited that it is an attempt to interfere with the state’s internal affairs.

The KSU has blamed ABYSO of trying to disrupt peace in the tribal-dominated north-eastern state.

The protests by the members of the KSU North Khasi Hills District and KSU South Khasi Hills District on Wednesday were held at Toll Plaza, Pahammawlein in Ri Bhoi district and Sohra in East Khasi Hills district.

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The students’ body had launched a poster campaign at prime locations of Shillong on Wednesday. However, the police swiftly moved in and removed the provocative posters.

Meghalaya Police tweeted late evening and appealed for peace among all sections of the society and not to pay attention to the swirling rumours.

The state government, which is facing a law and order challenge amid the Durga Puja festivities and the upcoming Christmas celebrations, is pulling out all stops to ensure peace and tranquillity prevails in Meghalaya that has been hit hard by a growing trust deficit between the tribals and the non-tribals.

The ABYSO, led by Chandan Chatterjee, had sought permission and security to visit Ichamati in East Khasi Hills district to take stock of the alleged “institutionalised harassment” of non-tribal women and children.

The state government has denied the allegation levelled by ABYSO after a probe was conducted by the district administration.

CM Sangma said on Wednesday that the government has decided to talk to the different warring groups in a bid to resolve the “confusion” and “misunderstanding” over the Ichamati imbroglio. “We are in the process of talking to all the stakeholders, including the Central government,” Sangma told media persons on Wednesday.

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The Ichamati incident was the offshoot of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 protests that had engulfed the state earlier this year.

The protests had culminated in the death of a staunch KSU activist, Lurshai Hynniewta, on February 28, when clashes between the Khasis and the Bengalis had erupted following a public meeting by the students’ union supporters.

Ichamati is located on the Indo-Bangladesh international border and is a trade route for export of limestone to the neighbouring country.

Sangma said the government is communicating with all the parties concerned in a bid to ensure that the law and situation does not aggravate. “Normalcy will be restored by holding talks with all the parties,” he said.

The CM owned up to the fact that the Ichamati had snowballed into a row a few months ago, but assured that the misgivings were addressed by his government.

He sounded confident about finding an amicable solution to the ethnic unrest.

“We are on the job. We are trying to ensure that we get a handle over the provocative comments being made by various groups,” Sangma added.

P Jyrwa, under secretary, home (political) department, Meghalaya, wrote to ABYSO’s Chatterjee on Tuesday and stated that the government did not recommend visits to Ichamati by the organisation or other non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

She informed that the state government had conducted an enquiry into the matter and a report on it was submitted to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

The enquiry was ordered by East Khasi Hills deputy commissioner. Representatives from the District Child Protection Committee were a part of the probe panel.

“The report found that there are no cases of harassment faced by the residents of Ichamati and particularly women and children,” Jyrwa asserted.

She also cited that the report did find that there were instances of coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-induced economic hardship faced by the local residents.

“The state government is aware of the ground realities and has initiated adequate steps to alleviate the hardship faced by the Ichamati residents,” Jyrwa said.

Besides, the issue of non-renewal of the trading licences of the residents has been taken up with the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) authorities by the East Khasi Hills deputy commissioner, she added.

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